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1 




8 o<j 



MAIN CURRENTS IN 

NINETEENTH CENTURY 

LITERATURE 



MAIN CURRENTS IN 

NINETEENTH CENTURY 

LITERATURE 

By GEORGE BRANDES 

In Six Vols, illustrated 

I. THE EMIGRANT LITERATURE. 

II. THE ROMANTIC SCHOOL IN GER- 
MANY. 

III. THE REACTION IN FRANCE. 

IV. NATURALISM IN ENGLAND. 

V. THE ROMANTIC SCHOOL IN FRANCE. 
VI. YOUNG GERMANY. 

NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 




WILLIAM WORDSWORTH 




MAIN CURRENTS IN 

NINETEENTH CENTURY 
LITERATURE 

BY 

GEORGE BRANDES 

IN SIX VOLUMES ILLUSTRATED 
IV 

NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 



NEW YORK : THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 

LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN 

MCMVI 



PXINTSD IN EkGLAND 






CONTENTS 



CHAP. 



PAGE 



I. COMMON CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PERIOD . i 

II. NATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS 6 

III. THE POLITICAL BACKGROUND 15 

IV. THE BEGINNINGS OF NATURALISM .... 32 
V. STRENGTH AND SINCERITY OF THE LOVE OF 

NATURE 3* 

VI. RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 5* 

VII. NATURALISTIC ROMANTICISM . . . . .72 

VIII. THE LAKE SCHOOL'S CONCEPTION OF LIBERTY . 85 

IX. THE LAKE SCHOOL'S ORIENTAL ROMANTICISM . 90 

X. HISTORICAL NATURALISM 102 

XI. ALL-EMBRACING SENSUOUSNESS 128 

XII. THE POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND 

REVOLT 148 

XIII. EROTIC LYRIC POETRY 182 

XIV. THE BRITISH SPIRIT OF FREEDOM .... 189 
XV. REPUBLICAN HUMANISM 195 

XVI. RADICAL NATURALISM 207 

XVII. BYRON : THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY . . 251 



VI 



CONTENTS 



XVIII. BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY— (Con- 
tinued) 

XIX. BYRON: HIS SELF-ABSORPTION 
XX. BYRON : THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT 
XXI. COMIC AND TRAGIC REALISM . 
XXII. CULMINATION OF NATURALISM 

XXIII. BYRON'S DEATH 

XXIV. CONCLUSION 




LIST OF PORTRAITS 



WORDSWORTH Frontispiece 

COLERIDGE To face page 72 

SCOTT t% „ 102 



KEATS . 
MOORE . 
SHELLEY 
BYRON . 



128 
150 
208 
252 



" I am as a spirit who has dwelt 
Within bis heart of hearts ; and I have felt 
His feettngs, and have thought his thoughts, and known 
The inmost converse of his soul, the tone 
Unheard hut in the silence of his blood, 
When all the pulses in their multitude 
Image the trembling calm of summer seas. 
I have unlocked the golden melodies 
Of his deep soul as with a master-key f 
And loosened them, and bathed myself therein- 
Even as an eagle in a thunder-mist 
Clothing his wings with lightning.* 9 

— Shelley (Fragment). 



J 



INTRODUCTION 

It is my intention to trace in the poetry of England of the 
first decades of this century, the course of the strong, deep, 
pregnant current in the intellectual life of the country, which, 
sweeping away the classic forms and conventions, produces 
a Naturalism dominating the whole of literature, which from 
Naturalism leads to Radicalism, from revolt against traditional 
convention in literature to vigorous rebellion against religious 
and political reaction, and which bears in its bosom the 
germs of all the liberal ideas and emancipatory achievements 
of the later periods of European civilisation. 

The literary period which I now proceed to describe is a 
vigorous, highly productive one. It has authors and schools 
of the most dissimilar types, sometimes not merely unlike, 
but antagonistic to, each other. Though the connection 
between these authors and schools is not self-evident, but 
only discernible to the understanding, critical eye, yet the 
period has its unity, and the picture it presents, though a 
many-coloured, restless one, is a coherent composition, the 
work of the great artist, history. 



Tffl 



NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 



UNIVERSAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PERIOD 

One of the first and chief things observable in this English 
literary group, is that it has certain characteristics in common 
with the whole European intellectual tendency of the period. 
These characteristics are universal because of the universal 
existence of their cause. Napoleon was threatening Europe 
with a world-wide Empire. To escape annihilation, all the 
threatened nationalities either instinctively or deliberately 
re-invigorated themselves from the sources of their national 
life. The national spirit is awakened and spreads and grows 
in Germany during the War of Liberation ; in Russia it 
bursts into flames along with the ancient capital of the 
country; in England it inspires enthusiasm for Wellington 
and Nelson, and vindicates in bloody battles, from the Nile 
to Waterloo, the ancient English claim to the sovereignty 
of the sea ; in Denmark the cannonade of the battle of 
Copenhagen awakens a new national spirit and produces a 
new literature. It is this patriotic spirit which leads all 
the different nations to the eager study of their own history 
and their own customs, their own legends and folk-lore. 
The devotion to everything national incites to the study 
and the literary representation of the " people " — that is to 
say, the lower classes of society, with whom the literature of 
the eighteenth century had not concerned itself. The re- 
action against French as a universal language brings even 
dialect into high repute. 

In Germany, as we have already seen, patriotism led to 
VOL. IV. A 



2 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

enthusiasm for the country's past, for the Middle Ages — 
their faith, their superstitions, and their social order. In 
Italy we have, in Manzoni's religious verse, an apparent 
return to Catholicism. The faith which had petrified into 
dogma, and meant renunciation of the flesh, is upheld as 
synonymous with poetry and morality; it is transformed 
from a religion into an art motif. Manzoni's religious 
enthusiasm is the same enthusiasm as that which accom- 
panied the Pope back to Rome and inspired Alexander with 
the idea of the Holy Alliance. Even France, the country 
which had produced Napoleon, was driven by the spirit of 
the age into a path leading in much the same direction as 
that taken by Germany ; the new French literary movement 
was directed against the Academy, against the so-called 
classical, *.*., universal, cosmopolitan literature ; the age of 
Louis XIV. was neglected, and the poets of the sixteenth 
century, Du Bellay, Ronsard, nay, even the poor grotesque 
poets whom Boileau had scoffed at and rejected, came into 
vogue again. (Victor Hugo's attack on the literary opinions 
of the period previous to his own ; Sainte-Beuve's earliest 
literary criticism ; Th6ophile Gautier's Les Grotesques.) In 
Denmark at the beginning of the century it was mainly in 
the wake of the German current that men's minds moved. 
They assumed an antagonistic attitude to French culture. 
But in the second and equally important stage of the literary 
movement, the antagonism becomes an antagonism to every- 
thing foreign, and more especially to Germany, which had 
for so long played the part of the oppressor in Denmark. 

In England we find the same essential features which 
distinguish the movement in all the other countries. The 
influence of France, which in the eighteenth century had 
been paramount in the upper classes of society, was shaken 
off. Pope, the last poet of the classical school, did not long 
remain a master in the eyes of the younger generation. 
They began to pluck at the little man's elaborate wig and 
trample over the trim beds of his garden. And now it 
became apparent what a powerful intellectual reserve force 
the British nation possessed in those countries which lay 
remote from the centre of political life, fresh, unexhausted 



CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PERIOD 3 

by civilisation. Ireland, which in the eighteenth century 
had produced such a thinker as Swift and such a writer as 
Goldsmith, owned a treasury of lovely melodies which, as 
soon as a great lyric poet lent them words, were poured forth 
by all the singing throats of Europe. The Welsh collected 
and published their old songs and poems. And in Scotland, 
to which country the mean, depressing conditions prevailing 
among the English industrial classes had not as yet spread, 
but where a people, proud of its past and its land, preserved 
its national songs, its superstitions, and its political pecu- 
liarities, there appeared in the second half of the eighteenth 
century, as a protest against cold reason and artificiality in 
poetry, Macpherson's Ossian. The influence of Ossian was 
alike great upon Alfieri and Foscolo in Italy, upon Herder 
and Goethe in Germany, and upon Chateaubriand in France. 
On it follow in England Percy's collection of old English, 
and in Scotland Walter Scott's collection of Scotch, ballads. 
But in the interval between these two publications our 
attention is demanded by one of those literary currents 
flowing from one country to another and back again, which 
it is our chief aim to trace, and which in this case is re- 
markably plain. Not long after Percy's Reliques appeared, 
a luckless young German lawyer in Government employ, 
Burger by name, was appointed to a small post in Gottingen, 
where he lived in straitened circumstances and in unhappy 
and demoralising marital relations with two sisters. Into 
this man's house Percy's book finds its way. It makes a 
powerful impression on him, and fires him with the desire 
to write something which had long been proscribed by the 
rules of poetical art, but which he himself calls (to Baggesen, 
see The Labyrinth) poetry proper, namely, a ballad. He begins 
the famous Lenore, and works at it slowly, week after week, 
with such a conviction of the importance of the step he is 
taking that his letters to his friends are full of nothing else. 
The ballad appears, and is soon read in every country in 
Europe. In the year 1795 an Edinburgh young lady in- 
troduces it to the notice of another lawyer in Crown employ ; 
and this young man, Walter Scott by name, who was also 
to be an author, and a very much greater one, makes his 



4 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

literary cUbut with a translation of Lenore and another ballad 
of Burger's, The Wild Huntsman. His translations meeting 
with a favourable reception, Scott began to regard himself 
as a poet. And it was upon the basis of these translations 
and that of Gdtz von Berlichingen, which he published in 
1799, that the national Scottish Romanticism of his poetry 
was founded. 

There is, then, originally in this literature a distinct trace 
of the general European reaction against the eighteenth 
century. The strong national feeling which superseded the 
feeling of cosmopolitanism is to be found in England in 
Wordsworth in the form of patriotic poetical description, 
in Southey in the form of eulogy (at times partly, at times 
purely, official) of the Royal Family and the national exploits, 
in the Scottish-born Campbell in the form of passionately 
British songs of liberty and war ; whilst Scott and Moore 
are positive literary personifications of Scotland and Ireland. 
The universal return to the popular has its chief representative 
and spokesman in Wordsworth, whose special theme is the 
life of the lower and lowest classes. The predilection for 
the Middle Ages is strongest in Scott, who combines the 
antiquarian's delight in memories and survivals of the 
past with the Tory politician's desire to represent the 
traditional in the most attractive light. The Romanticism 
of superstition finds its poet in Coleridge, whose studied 
childishness and simplicity are near of kin to Tieck's ; 
and it is Coleridge, too, who, thoroughly imbued with 
the doctrines of the German philosophy of the day, enters 
a general scientific protest against those of the age of 
enlightenment. His philosophy is quite un-English ; it 
is, in contradiction to the experimental nature of English 
science, purely transcendental ; it is conservative, pious, and 
historical, because the philosophy preceding it had been 
radical, infidel, and metaphysical ; it is a " Schellingism," 
which at first endeavours to preserve as many of the 
philosophic conclusions of the preceding century as possible, 
but which, ever more obstinate and ever more narrow- 
minded, hastens towards the opposite extreme from that 
which had proved fatal to the preceding period. The 



CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PERIOD 5 

confusedly fantastic side of Romanticism is represented by 
Southey with his Oriental narrative poems; and as for 
the passionate, despairing heroes of Chateaubriand and 
Romanticism generally, we find them, more passionate and 
more manly, in the works of Byron ; whilst Shelley's spiri- 
tualism and dissolution of all solid form into ethereal music 
recalls the ardour and vagueness of Novalis. 



II 

NATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS 

But these general and most marked characteristics of the 
period are modified in a very perceptible manner by certain 
peculiarly English characteristics, which, observable nowhere 
else, are to be found in all the English authors of the day, 
however little resemblance there may be between them in 
other respects. 

These English characteristics can all be traced back to 
one original distinctive quality, namely vigorous Naturalism. 
As we have observed, the first advance in the new literary 
movement is the inspiration of the authors of every country 
by a national spirit. Now in England this meant becoming 
a Naturalist, just as in Germany it meant becoming a 
Romanticist, and in Denmark a devotee of the Old-Scan- 
dinavian. The English poets, one and all, are observers, 
lovers, worshippers of nature. Wordsworth, who loves to 
parade his propensities as ideas, inscribes the word nature 
on his banner, and paints pictures, grand in spite of their 
minute detail, of the hills, the lakes, the rivers, and the 
rustic population of the North of England. Scott's de- 
scriptions of nature, based upon close observation, are so 
accurate that a botanist might acquire a correct idea of the 
vegetation of the district from them. Keats, with all his 
devotion to the antique and to Greek mythology, is a 
sensualist, who, gifted with the keenest, widest, most delicate 
perceptions, sees, hears, feels, tastes, and inhales all the 
varieties of glorious colour, of song, of silky texture, of 
fruit flavour, of flower fragrance, which nature offers. 
Moore is the personification of spiritualised sensuality ; the 
pampered, pampering poet, he seems to live surrounded 
by all that is rarest and most beautiful in nature ; he dazzles 



NATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS 7 

our minds with sunshine, deafens them with the song of 
the nightingale, drowns them in sweetness ; we live with 
him in endless dreams of wings, flowers, rainbows, smiles, 
blushes, tears, kisses — always kisses. The strongest tendency 
even of works like Byron's Don Juan and Shelley's Cenci is 
in reality Naturalism. In other words, Naturalism is so 
powerful in England that it permeates Coleridge's Romantic 
supernaturalism, Wordsworth's Anglican orthodoxy, Shelley's 
atheistic spiritualism, Byron's revolutionary liberalism, and 
Scott's interest in the past. It influences the personal beliefs 
and the literary tendencies of every author. 

This realism, so full of sap and vigour, is a result of 
various strongly-marked and almost universal English char- 
acteristics. There is, in the first place, the English love of 
the country and of the sea. Almost all the English poets 
of this period are either countrymen or seamen. The 
English Muse of poetry has from time immemorial frequented 
the country seat and the farm. Wordsworth's genuinely 
English poetry is in exact keeping with the well-known 
paintings and engravings representing English country life, 
which produce an impression of health and tranquillity, and, 
when such subjects as family worship or the country clergy- 
man's fatherly ministrations are portrayed, also of piety. 
Burns, the ploughman poet, Scotland's greatest poetic genius, 
early dedicated Scottish poetry to the country ; and there is 
truth in Emerson's caustic remark that Scott, in his narrative 
poems, simply wrote a rhymed guide-book to Scotland. That 
the same idea had occurred to the poet's own contemporaries 
is evident from the satirical manner in which Moore writes 
of Scott's " doing " the one country-seat after the other. 1 

1 Should you feel any touch of poetical glow 
We've a Scheme to suggest— Mr. Scott, you must know, 
Having quitted the Borders, to seek new renown 
Is coming, by long Quarto stages, to Town. 
And beginning with Rokeby (the job's sure to pay) 
Means to do all the Gentlemen's Seats on the way. 
Now the Scheme is (though none of our hackneys can beat him) 
To start a fresh Poet through Highgate to meet him ; 
Who, by means of quick proofs — no revises — long coaches, 
May do a few Villas, before Scott approaches. 

Moore : Intercepted Letters, No. 7. 



8 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

And what an important part country seats play in the 
lives of two such antipodal literary characters as Byron and 
Scott ! Newstead Abbey is as inseparably connected with 
Byron's name as Abbotsford is with Sir Walter Scott's. 
The old abbey, with its medieval and fantastic architecture, 
is to Byron the indispensable accompaniment of his peerage 
and the pledge of his English citizenship. He does not 
dispose of it until he has turned his back on his native 
land for ever. Scotf s proprietorship is not so ancient and 
venerable ; but he buys Abbotsford when the desire to 
own land, which has always been strong in him, becomes 
irresistible, and, during the happy period of his life passed 
there, lives as if he had grown up with no other prospect 
before him than that of exercising the regal hospitality of 
an old Scottish landed proprietor and living his hardy 
out-of-door life. His greatest delight is in such perilous 
amusements as wading through a raging stream— with a 
bridge not fifty yards off, riding a horse unmanageable by 
any one else, spearing salmon by torch-light, soaked with 
rain or shivering in the cold night air. And is not every 
reader of Byron's life here reminded of that poet's love of 
wild rides and daring swimming exploits ? 

Nevertheless there is in the attitude of the two authors 
to their estates a difference, characteristic of their different 
natures. Byron's love for Newstead Abbey had its origin 
in his aristocratic proclivities, Scott's for Abbotsford in his 
historic instincts. Just as Sir Walter's estate had Ettrick 
Forest for its background, Newstead had Sherwood Forest, 
with its memories of Robin Hood and his merry men. 
But these memories exercised no perceptible influence on 
Byron's poetry, though we have an admirable description 
of the Abbey itself in the Thirteenth Canto of Don Juan. 
The whole of Scott's poetry, on the contrary, is pervaded, 
as by a refrain, by the memories of Ettrick Forest ; and 
it is Scott, instead of Byron, who (in Ivanhoe) brings the 
poetry of Sherwood Forest to life again. 

Another English qualification for Naturalism is the love 
of the poets for the nobler animals, and their intimacy with 
the animal world in general. They have that affection for 



NATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS 9 

all domestic animals which is a result of their English love 
of home. When they travel they carry home and their 
domestic animals with them. Almost all the authors of our 
period are devoted to manly exercises, and in particular to 
riding. And in observing this we must not fall into the 
common error of mistaking a thoroughly national character- 
istic for a personal and rare one. It is not without its 
significance that the English race traces its descent from 
two mystic heroes bearing the names of horses (Hengist 
and Horsa). The love of horses, dogs, and all kinds of 
wild animals, which is so often mentioned as a peculiar 
characteristic of Byron, the misanthropical exile, is quite 
as marked a characteristic of Scott, living at home in the 
happiest domestic circumstances. Matthew's well-known 
letter describing the life at Newstead Abbey shows us Byron, 
the youth, surrounded by a whole menagerie, including a 
bear and a wolf ; in Medwin's account of the poet's life 
in Italy we read that he took with him when he left Ravenna 
in 1 82 1, "seven servants, five carriages, nine horses, a 
monkey, a retriever, a bull-dog, two cats, three Guinea 
fowls, and other birds." One is apt to think this an 
exhibition of purely personal singularity, until one reads, 
in Lockhart's Life, Scott's own description of the removal 
to Abbotsf ord. " The neighbours have been much delighted 
with the procession of my furniture, in which old swords, 
bows, targets, and lances made a very conspicuous show. 
A family of turkeys was accommodated within the helmet 
of some preux chevalier of ancient Border fame ; and the 
very cows, for aught I know, were bearing banners and 
muskets. I assure your ladyship that this caravan, attended 
by a dozen of ragged rosy peasant children, carrying fishing- 
rods and spears, and leading poneys, greyhounds, and 
spaniels, would, as it crossed the Tweed, have furnished 
no bad subject for the pencil." The only difference is 
that the old curiosity shop of the collector is added to the 
menagerie. Byron's love for his dog, Boatswain, and the 
solemn inscription engraved on the stone marking the 
favourite's grave, are apt to be instanced as signs of the 
poet's rooted melancholy. But it helps us to a more 



io NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

correct appreciation of such feelings to remember that the 
cheerful-minded Scott had his favourite dog, Camp, solemnly 
buried in the garden at Abbotsford, the whole family standing 
weeping round the grave. 

But even more characteristically English than the at- 
tachment to horses and dogs and land, and the witness in 
literature to the same, is the love of the sea. The English- 
man is an amphibious animal. A considerable part of the 
description of nature in the literature of this period is 
marine painting. It was an ancient tradition, gloriously 
maintained at this particular time, that England was the 
mistress of the sea ; and English writers have always been 
the best delineators and interpreters of the sea. There is 
a breath of its freshness and freedom in all the best poetry 
of the country. To the Englishman the sea has always 
been the great symbol of liberty, as the Alps have been 
to the freedom-loving Swiss. Wordsworth exclaims with 
truth in one of his Sonnets Dedicated to Liberty: — 

" Two Voices are there ; one is of the Sea, 
One of the Mountains ; each a mighty voice : 
In both from age to age thou didst rejoice, 
They were thy chosen music, Liberty ! " 

We understand, therefore, how it was that the long- 
dormant Viking spirit re-awoke in the best poets of the 
country during this remarkable period of English literature. 
In Coleridge's Ancient Mariner we have all the terror and 
horror of the sea ; Campbell's Mariners of England is an 
entrancingly melodious and manly glorification of the 
heroism and might of the English seamen ; Byron's Viking- 
like expeditions are mirrored in the exploits of Childe 
Harold and Don Juan ; Shelley's passion for the sea and 
sailing lives and breathes in the billowy rhythm of his 
verse and in all the poems which extol wind and wave — 
above all others that masterpiece, the Ode to the West Wind. 

Transferred to the domain of society, Naturalism be- 
comes, as it did in Rousseau's case, revolutionary ; and 
beneath that attachment to the soil, and that delight in 
encountering and mastering the fitful humours of the sea, 



NATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS n 

which are the deep-seated causes of Naturalism, there is 
in the Englishman the still deeper-seated national feeling, 
which, under the peculiar historical conditions of thisfperiod, 
naturally led the cleverest men of the day in the direction of 
Radicalism. No nation is so thoroughly penetrated by the 
feeling of personal independence as England. This is best 
seen in the Englishman abroad ; it is with a flourish of 
trumpets that he proclaims himself to be an Englishman. 
It is the transmission of this independence and self-suffi- 
ciency to English literature which has at decisive moments 
made its art a " character-art " ; and at the period under 
consideration it is this peculiar quality which, asserting itself, 
actually produces the new movement in the literature of 
Europe. It took an Englishman to do what Byron did, 
stem alone the stream which flowed from the fountain of 
the Holy Alliance — in the first place, because only an English 
author would have had the audacity to do it, in the second, 
because at that time only English literary men had the strong 
political tendency and the keen political intelligence which 
have always distinguished the first, possibly the only, parlia- 
mentary nation. And an Englishman, too, was needed 
to fling the gauntlet boldly and defiantly in the face of 
his own people. Only in the haughtiest of nations were there 
to be found great men haughty enough to defy the nation. 

This personal independence which distinguishes the 
country's most eminent authors is the outcome of a 
genuinely English peculiarity. These men are the followers 
of no particular doctrines ; they rarely profess any artistic 
principles, and certainly never any philosophical creed. The 
great German authors, Lessing, Goethe, Schiller, all do most 
important services to science ; but amongst the Englishmen 
there is not a single scientist. And a still more remarkable 
fact is that they never even consult one another. Goethe 
and Schiller carry on an interminable correspondence on 
the subject of the nature and proper treatment of the different 
varieties of poetic themes ; they even sometimes discuss at 
great length the propriety of the addition or suppression 
of a single stanza. Heiberg, the Dane, and his school 
follow certain definite artistic principles which they have 



12 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

agreed to observe, and are almost as critical as they are 
productive. But Scott and Byron and Moore, in spite of 
the cordial friendship subsisting between them, are perfectly 
isolated as regards authorship ; each produces his works 
without receiving or desiring any suggestion or advice what- 
ever from his brother authors. Even in the very exceptional 
case when one is influenced by another — as Byron, for 
instance, occasionally is by Wordsworth, and still more 
perceptibly by Shelley — the thing happens, as it were, secretly, 
quite insensibly, so that it is not alluded to, or at any rate 
not acknowledged as influence by the recipient. An American 
author has aptly described this characteristic of the race in 
the words : " Each of these islanders is himself an island." 
y We have already spoken of intelligent interest in politics. 

Just as there is not one among these authors who is a 
scientist, so there is hardly one among them who is not a 
politician. This interest in politics is a direct product of the 
national practicality. The opinions held by the different 
authors may be very dissimilar, but they are all party men ; 
Scott is a Tory, Wordsworth a Monarchist, Southey and Cole- 
ridge are first supporters, then antagonists, of the democratic 
ideas of the day ; Moore is on the side of the Irishmen ; 
Landor, Campbell, Byron, and Shelley, as Radicals, side with all 
the oppressed nations. In excepting such an author as Keats, 
who may almost be said to have been devoted to art for art's 
sake, we must not forget that he died at the age of twenty-five. 
The intense interest taken in practical matters explains 
why purely literary questions (such as that of the respective 
merits of Classicism and Romanticism), in their utter dis- 
connectedness with life, never became of such exaggerated 
importance in English as they did at this period in German, 
Danish, and even French literature. It is, however, amusing 
to observe how our authors combine the Englishman's im- 
pulse towards practical action with the fantastic proclivities 
of the poet. Scott carried his antagonism to the Revolution 
to a perfectly Quixotic length. He arranged with one of his 
friends, a duke, that, if the French landed in England, they 
two would take to the woods and live the life of Robin Hood 
and his followers. And it was about the same time that 



NATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS 13 

Southey and Coleridge, in the first Jacobinical ardour of 
their youth, informed their acquaintances that it was their 
intention to emigrate to a scantily populated part of America ; 
the banks of the Susquehanna were chosen because the name 
of this river struck the young men as being peculiarly 
beautiful and melodious ; they proposed to found a community 
there, a pantisocrasy, with community of goods and equality 
of all the members under natural conditions. Landor, who, 
as a soldier in Spain, proved that he was prepared to risk 
his life for his opinions, as a youth cherished the idea of 
reviving, at home in Warwickshire, the Arcadian idyllic age ; 
he is the literary counterpart of Owen, the Socialist. Shelley, 
as politician, showed such keenness of perception that, study- 
ing him as such, we are constantly reminded of the characteri- 
sation in Julian and Maddalo : 

" Me, who am as a nerve o'er which do creep 
The else unfelt oppressions of this earth. 9 

He foresaw many a political revolution that actually came 
to pass. But the same Shelley who, half a century before the 
passing of the Reform Bill of 1867, published an accurate 
draft of it in a political pamphlet, and who in his drama, 
Hellas, prophesied the success of the revolt of the Greeks at a 
time when their cause seemed hopeless, is an utter fantast as 
soon as he begins to enlarge on the coming Golden Age of 
humanity. Read his description of it in a youthful work, 
Queen Mab. The Polar icebergs melt, the deserts are 
cultivated, the basilisk licks the infant's feet, the hurricane 
blasts become melodious, the fruits of the earth are always 
ripe and its flowers always in bloom, no animal is killed 
and eaten by man, the birds no longer fly from him, fear 
no longer exists. We cannot but be reminded of some 
of the wildest dreams of the French Socialists of the 
same period. The spread of the Phalansteries devised by 
Fourier was expected to bring about such a change in the 
whole economy of the world that at last even natural 
conditions would be entirely altered ; an immense aurora 
borealis, perpetually suspended above the North Pole, would 
make Siberia as warm as Andalusia ; man would deprive the 



i 4 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

sea of its salt and give it in return a flavour of lemonade ; 
and the monsters of the deep would allow themselves to be 
harnessed, like sea-horses, to our ships. The invention of 
the steam-engine fortunately rendered this species of traction 
superfluous. Even Byron, who is decidedly the most 
practical of these poets, is often the poet in his politics. It 
hardly admits of doubt that he had the crown of Greece 
before his eyes as the recompense of his exertions in the 
cause of that country. 

There was plenty of fantasticalness in practical matters 
in the English poets, too ; but there undoubtedly is more 
practicality in their morality and their view of life than in 
those of the poets of other nations. There are a few more 
grains of sound sense in their works. They are, one and all, 
distinguished by a strong desire for justice. Wordsworth in- 
herits it from Milton ; Campbell, Byron, and Shelley feel it 
intuitively, and are ready in the strength of the feeling to 
defy the world. It plays no part, this feeling, in the life of 
Byron's great German predecessor, Goethe, or of his richly 
gifted French successor, De Musset. Neither of these ever 
summoned monarchs and governments before the tribunal 
of justice. But what is peculiarly English is, that this 
justice of which the Englishmen dream is not, like that 
which Schiller, for instance, worships, a cherished, pre- 
conceived idea, but a child of utility. To prove this let us 
take a poet as ethereally idealistic as Shelley, and we shall 
see that even his morality is as distinctly utilitarian as 
Bentham's and John Stuart Mill's. Here is a striking passage 
taken from the second chapter of his Speculations on Morals : — 
" If a man persists to inquire why he ought to promote the 
happiness of mankind, he demands a mathematical or meta- 
physical reason for a moral action. The absurdity of this 
scepticism is less apparent, but not less real than the exact- 
ing a moral reason for a mathematical or physical fact." 
In the maxim, "the greatest happiness of the greatest 
number," and in the profound, practical desire for justice, 
which is its psychological basis, we have the real point of 
departure of the Radicalism of English poetry during the 
period of the great European reaction. 



Ill 

THB POLITICAL BACKGROUND 

The English being at once the most persevering and the 
most enterprising people, the nation which is most attached 
to home and fondest of travel, the slowest to make changes 
and yet, in matters political, the most broad-minded, the 
thinking men of the country naturally fall into two great poli- 
tical groups, the one representing the jealously conservative, 
the other the daringly liberal tendency. The English parties 
have no resemblance to the French. It may be exaggeration 
to say, with Taine, that France has only two parties — the 
party of the men of twenty and the party of the men of forty ; 
yet this division is perhaps the essential one, which the other 
acknowledged party names merely modify. The English 
division is determined by the national character ; and in the 
stirring literary period under consideration, Wordsworth is 
the representative of the one set of qualities, Byron the type 
of the other. 

In the first years of the century there was another source 
of political division in the dual nature of the chief event of the 
period. This great event was the war with France. Of the 
German War of Liberation I have already remarked that it was 
certainly revolt against a terrible despotism, but a despotism 
which was an expression of the ideas of the Revolution ; 
that it was a fight for hearth and home, but undertaken at 
the command of the old reactionary reigning houses. And 
if such a remark is applicable to Germany's struggle, how 
much more applicable is it to the war waged by England. 
The independence of England was not assailed, but its 
interests were seriously threatened ; and during the lengthy 
war, and for long afterwards, there were not, as in Germany, 
liberty-loving men at the head of affairs, but all power was 

»5 



1 6 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

given into the hands of the most determinedly reactionary 
Tory government that the country had ever known. 

Hence it is that the background of this whole period of 
literature is so dark. The clouds which form it are heavy 
and black, " sunbeam-proof " Shelley would have called 
them. England itself, as the background of the panorama 
which I am about to unroll, is like a night landscape. The 
great qualities of the nation were misguided ; its extraordi- 
nary resoluteness was applied to the suppression of another 
nation's desires for liberty ; its own noble love of liberty was 
first utilised to overthrow the despotism of Napoleon and 
then misapplied in re-erecting all the old mouldering thrones 
which, under cover of the gunpowder smoke of Waterloo, 
were run up in as grlat haste as scaffolds are. The neutral 
qualities of the nation were educated into bad ones. Self- 
esteem and firmness were nursed into that hard-heartedness 
of the aristocratic, and that selfishness of the commercial 
classes which always distinguish a period of reaction ; loyalty 
was excited into servility, and patriotism into the hatred 
of other nations which is apt to develop during long wars. 
And the national bad qualities were over-developed. The 
desire for outward decorum at any price, which is the shady 
side of the moral impulse, was developed into hypocrisy in 
the domain of morality ; and that determined adherence 
to the established religion which is the least attractive 
outcome of a practical and not profoundly reasoning 
turn of mind, was fanned either into hypocrisy or active 
intolerance. No period was ever more favourable to the 
development of hypocrisy and fanaticism than this, during 
which the nation was actually encouraged by its leaders to 
boast of its religious superiority to free-thinking France. 

Those who suffered most were the country's greatest 
authors. It is out of fashion now to talk of the cant which 
drove Byron from his home ; and many scrupulous critics 
are disposed to give the name of honest, if narrow-minded, 
conviction to what used to be frankly called hypocrisy. 
But this view of the matter is untenable. A piety which 
behaves as English piety did to Byron and Shelley is not 
mere stupidity, but narrow-minded, repulsive hypocrisy. 



THE POLITICAL BACKGROUND 17 

The dicta upon this subject of the keen American 
observer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, are of value ; for as 
America's most eminent critic, as England's greatest 
admirer, and as judge of his own race, he has every claim 
to credence. He says : — ** The torpidity on the side of reli- 
gion of the vigorous English understanding shows how 
much wit and folly can agree in one brain. Their religion 
is a quotation, their church is a doll, and any examination 
is interdicted with screams of terror. In good company, 
you expect them to laugh at the fanaticism of the vulgar ; 
but they do not ; they are the vulgar. . . . The English, 
abhorring change in all things, abhorring it most in matters 
of religion, cling to the last rag of form, and are dreadfully 
given to cant. The English (and I wish it were confined to 
them, but 'tis a taint in the Anglo-Saxon blood in both hemi- 
spheres), the English and the Americans cant beyond all other 
nations. The French relinquish all that industry to them. 
What is so odious as the polite bows to God in our books 
and newspapers? The popular press is flagitious in the 
exact measure of its sanctimony, and the religion of the 
day is a theatrical Sinai, where the thunders are supplied by 
the property-man. . . . The Church at this moment is much 
to be pitied. She has nothing left but possession. If a 
bishop meets an intelligent gentleman and reads fatal inter- 
rogations in his eyes, he has no resource but to take wine 
with him." 1 This description is of the England of 1830, 
so we can imagine what the condition of matters must have 
been twenty years earlier. 

The most lamentable national failing, the inclination 
to oppression, was positively reduced to a system, and 
was more conspicuous during this period of the country's 
history than any other. England, Scotland, and Ireland 
combine to oppress the distant colonies ; England and 
Scotland, making common cause, oppress Ireland — keep 
down the Irish Church and repress Irish industry and 
commerce ; England does what she can to repress Scot- 
land ; and in England itself the rich man oppresses the 
poor man, and the ruling class all the others. Of the 

1 Emerson : English Traits % chap. xiii. 
VOL. IV. B 



1 8 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

thirty million inhabitants of the country only one million 
possessed the franchise. And any one who cares to read 
the attack on the English landed proprietors in Byron's 
Age of Bronze will see how shamelessly the landowners 
enriched themselves at the expense of the other classes 
during the war, and how their whole political aim was to 
insure the continuance of their power to do so. 

Such are the conditions which exercise a partly pernicious, 
partly inspiring and stimulating influence on the country's 
authors. In those of them in whose breasts the sacred Are 
burns feebly it is soon extinguished, and they become re- 
actionary supporters of the existing conditions. But those 
of them whose lightning-charged spirits were fitted to defy 
the direction of the wind, develop under the oppression of 
these conditions an emancipatory literary force which com- 
municates a shock to the political atmosphere. To these 
latter England seems a very "Gibraltar of custom," and 
they leave their native land that they may attack and 
bombard their home with all the artillery of satire and 
indignation. 

In order to arrive at a proper understanding of the soil 
from which the Naturalistic literature springs, and to under- 
stand the principles (not artistic, but political, social, and 
religious principles) which divide the authors into antago- 
nistic groups, we must enter a little more into detail with 
regard to the political conditions prevailing in this home. 
At the beginning of the century there sat on the throne of 
England the king who had reigned since 1760, George the 
Third. From his earliest childhood George's mother had 
endeavoured to inoculate him with the exaggerated and 
un-English notions of sovereignty which prevailed on the 
Continent, and she had succeeded so well that one after 
another of the eminent noblemen who were chosen to be 
governors to the Prince resigned the office because their 
influence was counteracted. One of these, Lord Waldegrave, 
who was not merely a shrewd observer, but also a devoted 
adherent of the House of Hanover, has drawn a portrait of 
his royal pupil which is anything but attractive. He is 
described as not altogether deficient in ability, but wholly 



THE POLITICAL BACKGROUND 19 

without power of application ; as honest, but without the 
frank and open behaviour which makes honesty amiable ; as 
sincerely pious, but rather too attentive to the sins of his 
neighbours ; resolute, but obstinate and strong in prejudices. 
The tutor tells how, when his pupil is displeased, his anger 
does not break out with heat and violence, but produces 
a fit of sullenness and silence. And, " when the fit is ended, 
unfavourable symptoms very frequently return, which indi- 
cate on certain occasions that his Royal Highness has too 
correct a memory." And this same King, who had such a 
lively recollection of injuries, had a more than royal forget- 
fulness of services. But perhaps his greatest fault as a 
public personage and a ruler was his absolute petrifaction 
in prejudices. In private life he was honest, respectable, 
and reliable, and inspired his subjects with great esteem, 
though the defects in his education were never supplied. 
When he began to reign he had little or no knowledge of 
either books or men, and to the end of his life he remained 
perfectly ignorant as regarded literature and art. But in 
his selfish court he was not long in acquiring a considerable 
knowledge of human nature ; the man to whom all, great 
and small, held out their hands whenever they saw him, soon 
learned to ascertain every man's price and to calculate his 
value. His naturally sound understanding was enlarged 
neither by study, nor travel, nor conversation ; but on 
matters the discussion of which does not require much 
cultivation of mind he generally went to the point, and 
acquitted himself with as much ability as was necessary in 
a ruler who was very unwilling to be a king only in name. 1 

George III. was England's Frederick VI. He was a 
true patriarchal ruler, who felt himself to be the father of 
his people. During his reign England lost the North 
American colonies, as Denmark under Frederick VI. lost 
Norway, without this loss, or the foolish policy which had 
led to it, damaging the personal popularity of the sovereign. 
King George's household was a model of an English gentle- 
man's household. Early rising was its first rule. Simplicity, 
order, frugality, a real bourgeois spirit, reigned. It was 

1 Massey : History of England* L 59, &c. 



20 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

stupid to a degree which its historian Thackeray " shuddered 
to contemplate." 

Often, we are told, the King rose before any one else 
was up, ran upstairs and awoke all the equerries, and then 
went for an early walk, and had a talk with every one he 
met. He was in the habit of poking his nose into every 
cottage ; now he would give a child a silver coin, now 
present an old woman with a hen. One day, when the 
King and Queen were walking together, they met a little 
boy and talked to him. At last the King said, " This is the 
Queen ; kneel down, and kiss her hand." But this the little 
fellow obstinately declined to do, out of consideration for 
his new breeches ; and the thrifty King was so delighted 
with such a sign of youthful prudence that he pressed the 
child to his heart. 

The days passed at this court with a dreary monotony 
which drove the young princes from home, and was in part 
responsible for their turning out so badly. In the evening 
the King either played his game of backgammon or had his 
evening concert, during which he always nodded, while the 
gentlemen-in-waiting almost yawned themselves to death in 
the ante-room. 

The family took their daily walk in Windsor Park ; the 
people crowded round quite familiarly, and the Eton boys 
thrust their chubby cheeks under the crowd's elbows. The 
open-air music over,theKing never failed to take his cocked hat 
off and salute his band, and say, " Thank you, gentlemen." 

What Dane can fail to be reminded by these scenes of 
Frederick VI.'s walks and sails as Chief Admiral in the 
grounds of Frederiksberg 1 Like our Danish monarch, 
George III. won the affections of the people by the simpli- 
city of his habits and his shabby coat. Equally applicable 
to King George is Orla Lehmann's remark about Frederick 
VI., li that his simplicity, both of mind and behaviour, and 
his kindly interest in the well-being of individuals were 
regarded as compensations for his failings as a statesman 
and ruler." But indeed there were not many who detected 
these last. To the great majority of his subjects old George 
seemed a very wise statesman and very powerful sovereign. 



THE POLITICAL BACKGROUND 21 

There is a famous print of him (by Gillray) which represents 
him — in the old wig, in the stout old hideous Windsor 
uniform — as the King of Brobdingnag, peering at a little 
Gulliver, whom he holds up in one hand, whilst in the other 
he has an opera-glass, through which he surveys the pigmy. 
And who, think you, is the little Gulliver? He wears a 
cocked-hat and the little grey Marengo coat. 

Danish readers will remember an old picture, a photo- 
graphic reproduction of which was very popular some years 
ago. It was called "The Well-beloved Family," and repre- 
sented Frederick VI. taking a walk with his whole family, 
from eldest to youngest. Is not the following picture (from 
the pages of Miss Burney) of one of the afternoon walks at 
Windsor its exact counterpart ? " It was really a mighty 
pretty procession. The little Princess Amelia, just turned 
of three years old, in a robe-coat covered with fine muslin, 
a dressed close cap, white gloves, and fan, walked on alone 
and first, highly delighted with the parade, and turning from 
side to side to see everybody as she passed ; for all the 
terracers stand up against the walls, to make a clear passage 
for -the royal family the moment they come in sight. Then 
followed the King and Queen, no less delighted with the joy 
of their little darling. The Princess Royal leaning on Lady 
Elizabeth Waldegrave, the Princess Augusta holding by the 
Duchess of Ancaster, the Princess Elizabeth led by Lady 
Charlotte Bertie, followed. General Bude and the Duke of 
Montague, and Major Price as equerry, brought up the rear 
of the procession." What a charming picture ! exclaims 
Thackeray. Whilst the procession passes, the band plays 
its old music, the sun lights up the ancient battlements, the 
rich elms, the royal standard drooping from the great tower, 
and the loyal crowd, whom the charming infant caresses 
with her innocent smiles. 

This is the domestic idyll which in public life has its 
counterpart in the King's passionate determination to op- 
press North America, oppose the French Revolution, annihi- 
late the Irish Church, and maintain negro slavery with all 
its horrors. But the idyllic family life was at an end before 
the century was out. In 1788 the King had his first attack 



22 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

of insanity, and even then the question of the Regency 
of the Prince of Wales, which was not finally determined 
until 1810, was discussed with an extraordinary display of 
passion. The Opposition believed that if they could pro- 
cure the appointment of the Prince of Wales as Regent, they 
would be able to keep the Tories out of power for a lengthy 
period. But the character and morals of the Prince were so 
repugnant to the great majority of the nation that his acces- 
sion to power was regarded with dread. However, before 
the Regency Bill was actually proceeded with, Pitt was in a 
position to lay before Parliament a medical bulletin inform- 
ing his subjects of the probable speedy and complete restora- 
tion of their King's health. The Prince's disappointment 
was great, and his having displayed anything but proper filial 
feeling during the King's illness made it difficult for him to 
disguise it. He had a talent for mimicry, and had amused 
the witty and profligate men and women who were his con- 
stant companions by taking off, as the saying was, the gestures 
and actions of his insane father. This alone is sufficient to 
show his character — the character of the man who, on 
account of a certain outward polish, went by the name of 
44 the first gentleman in Europe." 

Even though he retained it only for a short time, one 
cannot but admire the cleverness with which this Prince 
managed to win the friendship of many of the most gifted 
men of the day. Burke and Fox and Sheridan were his 
associates. Certainly, as Thackeray says, it was not his 
opinions about the constitution, or about the condition of 
Ireland, which they cared to hear — that man's opinions, 
indeed ! But he talked with Sheridan of dice, and with Fox 
of wine ; those were interests which the fool and the geniuses 
had in common ; and Beau Brummell's friend and rival was 
an authority among the fashionable men of the day on such 
questions as the suitable button for a waistcoat and the best 
sauce for a partridge. He even attached Moore to himself 
for a short time. From the tone of a letter which Moore 
writes to his mother in June 181 1 (Memoirs, i. 225), we 
understand plainly that he feels flattered by the Prince 
Regent's "cordial familiarity." And the same is true for 



THE POLITICAL BACKGROUND 23 

a moment of Byron ; his letter of reconciliation to Sir Walter 
Scott shows how susceptible he was to the Regent's flatteries 
on the subject of Childe Harold. And Scott himself ! Good, 
honourable gentleman though he was, in his capacity of 
obstinate Tory he was always the Regent's faithful liegeman. 
And when the latter, as King George the Fourth, came to 
Scotland (where he figured in the dress of a Highland chief, 
with his fat legs bared and a kilt round his enormous body, 
as satirically described by Byron at the end of The Age of 
Bronze), Scott went on board the royal yacht to welcome 
him, seized a glass from which his Majesty had just drunk, 
begged to be allowed to keep it, vowed that it should remain 
for ever as an heirloom in his family, clapped it in his pocket, 
and, finding an unexpected guest when he went home, sat 
down upon it, and was quickly and painfully reminded of 
the royal keepsake. Scott continued faithful to George IV. 
long after Moore had riddled him with the darts of his wit, 
and Byron lashed him with his savage epigrams, and after 
even Brummell, walking in Hyde Park, had looked at him 
through his eye-glass and asked the Prince's companion, 
"Who vs> your fat friend?" 

For the insinuating heir-apparent in time became ex- 
tremely corpulent. The life he led, the perpetual feasting 
and drinking bouts, produced such a habit of body that 
at last he could not walk. When he was to drive out, a 
board was put out at the window, and down it he was 
slid into his carriage. While the starving weavers in 
Glasgow and Lancashire were crying aloud to Heaven, 
he was arranging magnificent festivities, and receiving the 
exiled Bourbon as Louis XVIII. "The child is father of 
the man," says Wordsworth. George IV. signalised his 
entrance into society by a feat worthy of his future life. 
He invented a new shoe-buckle. It was an inch long and 
five inches broad. u It covered the whole instep, reaching 
down to the ground on either side of the foot." At his first 
appearance at a court ball his coat was, we read, of pink 
silk, with white cuffs ; his waistcoat, white silk, embroidered 
with various-coloured foil, and adorned with a profusion of 
French paste. His hat was ornamented with a profusion 



24 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

of steel beads, five thousand in number, with a button and 
loop of the same metal, and cocked in a new military style. 

A military style, indeed ! It exactly suited the head that 
wore it. This head was full, at the time its owner began 
housekeeping in his splendid new palace of Carlton House, 
of vague projects of encouraging literature, science, and the 
arts ; and for a moment it seemed as if they were really to 
be carried out — when at the Prince Regent's table Sir Walter 
Scott, the best raconteur of his time, with loyal devotion and 
real generosity poured forth humorous, whimsical stories 
from his inexhaustible store, or Moore sang some of his sweet 
Anacreontic songs, or Grattan, Ireland's proud leader, con- 
tributed to the entertainment his wondrous eloquence, fancy, 
and feeling. But how soon did these men make way for a 
company much better suited to the Prince — French cooks, 
French ballet-dancers, horse-jockeys, buffoons, procurers, 
tailors, boxers, jewellers, and fencing-masters ! With such 
people he spent the time left him by his mistresses and his 
bacchanalian orgies. He showed his love for art and his 
taste by purchasing at extravagant prices whole cart-loads of 
Chinese monstrosities. It was but natural that this royal 
bel esprit, when he came into power, should quarrel with the 
clever Whigs whose society he had sought. He suddenly 
wheeled round and became a Tory. 

Four of the European monarchs of the first half of 
this century — Ludwig I. of Bavaria, Frederick William IV. 
of Prussia, Christian VIII. of Denmark, and this English 
Prince Regent — bear a strong resemblance to each other. 
They are the four reigning reactionary dilettanti. In 
England, as in Denmark, literary dilettantism succeeds 
patriarchal simplicity. In the case we are at present con- 
sidering, it was combined with shocking morals and an 
almost incredible indolence. In March 1816, fifty-eight 
prisoners under sentence of death were lying in Newgate 
prison waiting until the Prince Regent's amusements and 
distractions should allow him time to sign their death- 
warrants or their pardons, and many of them had lain there 
since December. In vain did Brougham make his terrible 
attack in Parliament upon those u who, when the gaols were 



THE POLITICAL BACKGROUND 25 

filled with wretches, could not suspend for a moment their 
thoughtless amusements to end the sad suspense between 
life and death." In connection with this subject, Moore's 
satires in The Twopenny Post-Bag are well worth reading. 
They show plainly that the sweet Irish song-bird had beak 
and claws. In The Life of Sir Walter Scott we read with 
what a good-humoured smile the Regent, in 18 15, could refer 
to and quote the verses by Moore which describe his table 
as loaded with fashion- journals on the one side and un- 
signed death-warrants on the other. The satire of the 
verses was only too well deserved, but was of little avail. 
As early as 1 8 1 2 Castlereagh had said, in a speech in Parlia- 
ment : " It would be impossible for his Royal Highness to 
disengage] his person from the accumulating pile of papers 
that encompass it" In " The Insurrection of the Papers," 
Moore puts it thus : — 

" On one side lay unread Petitions, 
On t'other hints from five Physicians ; 
Here tradesmen's bills, — official papers, 
Notes from my Lady, drams for vapours — 
There plans of saddles, tea and toast, 
Death-warrants, and the Morning Post" 

Four years later, the Regent had actually allowed fifty- 
eight death-warrants to accumulate. 

As already mentioned, he was hardly invested with the 
signs of power before he quarrelled with his Whig friends 
and became a Tory. The great, long-lasting Tory Govern- 
ment was formed. At its head was the Earl of Liverpool, 
an obstinate, but lazy and good-natured reactionary ; the 
displeasure of the public never fell upon him, but always 
on his colleagues ; he was, as Prime Minister, a kind of 
monarch with limited power, honest intentions, and modest 
abilities. He and his colleague, Lord Sidmouth, the Home 
Secretary, enjoyed the privilege of not being envied and 
feared for the force of their characters or the splendour 
of their talents. The most notable and most fiercely 
criticised member of the ministry was Lord Castlereagh, a 
moderately gifted man of energetic character, whom Wilber- 
force once declared to be as cold-blooded as a fish. He 



26 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

had a handsome face and a commanding voice, and to 
these added the outward show of honours which had not 
been bestowed on a commoner since the days of Sir Robert 
Walpole. He was " the noble lord in the blue ribbon." 
He had a natural leaning towards arbitrary principles, and 
his intercourse with the irresponsible rulers of the continent 
tended to strengthen him in ideas which were extremely 
dangerous for a constitutional minister. No consciousness 
of the narrowness of his intellect and the defects of his 
education prevented him from pouring out torrents of un- 
formed sentences and disjointed arguments. These often 
aroused the laughter of the House ; but he withstood all 
attacks with unflinching determination ; none of the hostility 
or suspicions expressed moved him a hair's-breadth from 
his path ; in his intercourse with Parliament, he again and 
again adopted the standpoint of absolutism : " We alone 
know/' Byron, Shelley, and Moore all flagellate him in 
their poetry. There remains to be named Lord Chancellor 
Eldon, the personification of Toryism, whose thought by 
day and dream by night was the maintenance of what he 
called the constitution. In his opinion the man who 
attempted to do away with any ancient privilege, any anti- 
quated restriction of the liberty of the subject, and still more 
the man who attempted to repeal any cruel penal law, was 
laying his hand on the constitution. Yet no one was more 
ready than he himself to suspend the laws of the country 
whenever they stood in his way. The suspension of the 
Habeas Corpus Act, the gagging of the press, &c. — such 
amputations as these were life to the constitution ; to infuse 
new blood was death. 

This was the ministry which, in 1814, astonished Alex- 
ander of Russia by its ardour in re-asserting and re-establish- 
ing the principles which had been shaken by the Revolution. 
He slighted it by expressing pity for its reactionary tenden- 
cies and cultivating the acquaintance of the leaders of the 
Opposition in London. The first tidings of the French 
Revolution had been received with approval by the English 
Government and nation. The antagonists Pitt and Fox united 
in hailing it as one of the greatest and most beneficent events 



THE POLITICAL BACKGROUND 27 

in the history of humanity. But hardly had blood been shed 
on the other side of the Channel, before the mass of the 
people, including even the majority of the Opposition, saw 
their whole national inheritance — monarchy, religion, the 
rights of property — endangered, and formed an enormous 
party of order. Amongst the Whigs, Burke was the first to 
condemn the Revolution violently, and as violently to con- 
demn his friend and political ally, Fox, for defending its spirit. 
The old Whigs sided with Burke. Pitt, who had planned a 
whole series of necessary reforms, took alarm, dared not 
even make any alterations in the disgraceful election system, 
and, on being challenged, confessed that, though fully 
persuaded of the necessity of Parliamentary reform, the time 
was not a favourable one for such a daring attempt. Jaco- 
binism was scented in every liberal movement, however 
innocent and justifiable. When Wilberforce began his 
agitation against the negro slave-trade, he was supported 
both by the Government and the Opposition. He had 
against him only the King, the shipowners, and the House 
of Peers. But when, in 179 1, he tried the temper of the 
nation for the second time, the revulsion had been so great 
that the champions of the abolition of the slave-trade were 
almost regarded as Jacobins, and Wilberforce's bill was 
rejected by a majority of 163 to 88. 

The impression produced in Ireland by the Revolution 
was another cause of affright in England. The Irish hailed 
the tidings of the Revolution as slaves and serfs hail the 
news of emancipation. Although the Irish nation, under 
the leadership of the noble Henry Grattan (so enthusiasti- 
cally eulogised by Byron), had succeeded in 1782 in obtain- 
ing the absolute independence and supremacy of its own 
Parliament, both the commerce and the religion of the 
country were still oppressed. Thomas Moore, a very 
moderate man, writes that, as the child of Catholic parents, 
he came into the world with the yoke of the slave round his 
neck. He tells how, when a boy, he was taken, in 1792, by 
his father to a public dinner in Dublin, at which one of the 
toasts was : " May the breezes of France blow our Irish oak 
into verdure ! " In his Memoirs we have a description of 



28 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

the movement amongst the youth of the country. He knew 
and admired its leader, Robert Emmet. When, in the 
Dublin Debating Society, of which he was the moving spirit 
and chief ornament, Emmet gave an eloquent description 
of the doings of the French Republic — when, with an allu- 
sion to the story of Caesar swimming across the river with 
his sword in one hand and his Commentaries in the other, he 
said : " Thus France at this time swims through a sea of 
blood, but, while in one hand she wields the sword against 
her aggressors, with the other she upholds the interests of 
literature uncontaminated by the bloody tide through which 
she struggles " — his young countryman listened not only to 
the literal meaning of the speech, but for every little allusion 
or remark which he might apply to Ireland. And such 
allusions were forthcoming. "When a people," cried Emmet 
one day, "advancing rapidly in civilisation and the know- 
ledge of their rights, look back after a long lapse of time, 
and perceive how far the spirit of their Government has 
lagged behind them, what then, I ask, is to be done by 
them in such a case? What, but to pull the Government up 
to the people." 

The day was not far off when Robert Emmet was to 
pay dearly for all his bold words. In 1798 the long- 
prepared-for explosion took place ; and, as Byron puts it, 
Castlereagh " dabbled his sleek young hands in Erin's gore." 
The fury with which the Government set to work to crush 
the rebellion and the rebels was so animal and ferocious, 
that the horrors accompanying the proceeding are almost 
unequalled in the history of rebellion-suppressing in modern 
times. 

The hatred of the Revolution prolonged itself into hatred 
of Napoleon. This last went beyond all reasonable bounds. 
Thackeray tells an anecdote which gives an idea of its 
character. "I came," he writes, "from India as a child, 
and our ship touched at an island on the way home, where 
my black servant took me a long walk over rocks and hills 
until we reached a garden, where we saw a man walking. 
'That is he/ said the black man : 'That is Bonaparte! He 
eats three sheep every day, and all the little children he can 



THE POLITICAL BACKGROUND 29 

lay hands on/ " And Thackeray adds : " There were people 
in the British dominions, besides that poor Calcutta serving- 
man, with an equal horror of the Corsican ogre." We have 
it strong in Wordsworth's sonnets, Southey's poems, and in 
Scott's notorious " Life of Napoleon." The wars with 
France inaugurated the great British reaction — repeated 
suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, extension of the 
definitions of treason contained in the old statutes of 
Edward III., encroachments on the right of public discussion 
and petition, and also on the virtual liberty of the press. 
In Scotland, more particularly, barbarous old statutes were 
revived, and highly cultured men were banished as common 
convicts to the Australian penal settlements. Those in 
power were not afraid, in addressing the English republicans 
and advocates of equality, to talk of the absolute power of 
the sovereign, and of the comparative insignificance of 
Parliament and the representatives of the people. An all- 
powerful party was formed, with the watchword : The King 
and the Church ! 

The King himself was insane, the Prince Regent worse 
than insane, and the Church hypocritical. In 18 12 came 
floods, a failure of the harvest, and famine. Starvation drove 
crowds of the poor classes from their homes, to wander 
aimlessly about the country. Expression is given to their 
mood in Shelley's Masque of Anarchy. The workmen of 
Nottingham, in their despair, broke into the lace-factories 
and destroyed the frames. It was in defence of these men 
that Byron made his well-turned maiden speech in Parlia- 
ment. 

We see from Romilly's Journal how impossible it was 
for the few liberally inclined politicians to pass even the 
smallest measure of a reformatory nature. Romilly was 
universally revered as the reformer of the barbarous English 
penal code, but is best known nowadays as the legal 
adviser of the Princess of Wales and of Lady Byron. In 
1808 he writes: "If any person be desirous of having an 
adequate idea of the mischievous effects which have been 
produced in this country by the French Revolution and all 
its attendant horrors, he should attempt some legislative 



30 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

reform on humane and liberal principles. He will then find, 
not only what a stupid dread of innovation, but what a 
savage spirit it has infused into the minds of many of his 
countrymen." When Romilly brought in a bill to repeal the 
Act of William III. which made death the punishment for 
shop- lifting, Lord Ellenborough, actively supported by Lord 
Eldon, opposed the bill, along with two others of a similar 
nature, declaring that " they went to alter those laws which 
a century had proved to be necessary, and which were now 
to be overturned by speculation and modern philosophy." 
And it was not the Government alone which appeared to be, 
as it were, possessed by the lust of hanging ; it was widely 
spread among the members of Parliament. Romilly tells 
how one of the young members answered all his arguments 
and objections with the one monotonous retort : " I am for 
hanging all." And yet one would have imagined that in the 
nineteenth century the time had come to put an end to that 
partiality for hanging which in England still bore lamentable 
witness to the amount of savagery existing in the national 
character. In the reign of Henry VIII., 72,000 thieves were 
hanged, and under George III. they were still hanged by the 
dozen. In 18 17, a regular system of suppression of free- 
thought and liberty of publication was evolved during the 
different prosecutions of the old bookseller, William Hone, 
who, with a rare combination of honesty and shrewdness, 
time after time defeated every attempt to convict him of 
blasphemy. In 1819 occurred the Manchester riots, when a 
cavalry charge was ordered, and the poor unarmed rioters 
were maltreated by the soldiers. The impression produced 
by the events of the immediately preceding years is pre- 
served in Shelley's poems of the year 18 19. 

The political background of the intellectual life of this 
period is, thus, undoubtedly a dark one— dark with the 
terror produced in the middle classes by the excesses of the 
liberty movement in France, dark with the tyrannic lusts of 
proud Tories and the Church's oppressions, dark with the 
spilt blood .of Irish Catholics and English artisans. And on 
the pinnacle of society the crown is set on the insanity in 
George the Third's head, and the sceptre is placed in the 



THE POLITICAL BACKGROUND 31 

hands of the careless lewdness which, in the person of the 
Prince Regent, occupies the throne as proxy for the narrow- 
mindedness which had occupied it in the person of his 
father. And it is this throne which Lord Eldon supports 
with the six " gagging bills " into which he has transformed 
England's ancient constitution — this throne which is lauded 
and glorified in Castlereagh's ungrammatical, anti-liberal 
speeches, and in Southey's unmelodious, highly-paid adula- 
tory verse — until the horrible, incredible scandals of George 
IV.'s divorce suit, spreading like a great sewer from the 
tribunal of the Upper House, drown the glory of the throne 
and the dignity of the court in a flood of mire, and the 
revolutions of Spain, Greece, and South America, following 
on each other without intermission, clear the air, and Castle- 
reagh cuts his throat (" slits a goose-quill/' as Byron says), 
and England, under Canning, recognises the South American 
republics, and paves the way for the battle of Navarino. 

The writings of Shelley, Landor, Byron, and Campbell, 
have political equivalents in Canning's actions as minister. 
Indeed, Canning's speeches complement these authors' works. 
Castlereagh's invertebrate speeches and his dull, meagre 
official letters (the more meagre because, as a good business 
man of the school of Metternich, he preferred verbal com- 
munications) were at once succeeded by Canning's frank and 
glowing eloquence. Castlereagh, like his surviving colleagues 
of the ignominious Congress of Vienna, endeavoured, under 
the guise of evangelic peace, to maintain silence and darkness 
in Europe; Canning's speeches shone through the dark 
night of the Holy Alliance like a forest conflagration. The 
great idea that inspired him was the belief in the right of a 
people to free action. He died on the 8th of August 1827 J 
but on the 10th of October of the same year was fought the 
battle of Navarino, which was, as it were, the last will of 
the dead man, and which to our generation is the political 
symbol of the awakening of the new spirit in Europe. 1 

1 Miss Martineau : The History of England during the Thirty Years 9 Peace, I., II. 
Massey : History of England during the Reign of George Ill. y I-IV. Thackeray: 
The Four Georges, Reiohold Pauli : Geschichte Engiands sett den Friedensschliissen 
1814 and 1815. Emerson: English Traits. 



IV 

THE BEGINNINGS OF NATURALISM 

During the summer of 1797, the talk of the inhabitants of a 
village on the coast of Somersetshire ran much on the 
subject of two young men who had lately taken up their 
residence there, and were daily to be seen walking together, 
absorbed in eager, endless discussions, in which foreign 
words and foreign names, unintelligible to the natives, were 
of frequent occurrence. The elder of the two was twenty- 
seven. The expression of his face was profoundly serious, his 
manner dignified, almost solemn ; he was not unlike a young 
Methodist parson, and had a monotonous and fatiguing 
voice. His companion, who was a year or two younger, 
and whose words, accompanied by much violent gesture, 
flowed in an unceasing stream, had a large round head (the 
shape of which indicated remarkable gifts), flattish features, 
and deep hazel eyes, as full of confused depression as of in- 
spiration. The whole figure and air might be called flabby and 
irresolute, expressive of weakness with a curious possibility of 
strength. The youth's voice was musical, and his eloquence 
seemed to entrance even his reserved auditor and friend. 
Who and what were these two young men, who desired 
acquaintance with no one in the place or neighbourhood ? 
This was the question the inhabitants put to themselves. 
What could they be discussing so eagerly but politics ? and 
if so, what could they be but conspirators, possibly Jacobins 
hatching treasonous plots ? 

The rumour soon spread that the elder of the two friends, 
Mr. Wordsworth, had been in France at the beginning of the 
Revolution, and had amply shared the enthusiasm of the day 
for social reform ; and that the younger, Mr. Coleridge, had 
distinguished himself as a keen democrat and Unitarian, had 



THE BEGINNINGS OF NATURALISM 33 

written a drama called The Fall of Robespierre^ and two political 
pamphlets entitled Condones ad populunt, and had even formed 
the plan of founding, with others holding the same opinions, 
a socialistic community in the backwoods of America, No 
further confirmation of the suspicions entertained was re- 
quired. A kind neighbour communicated with the authorities 
in London, and a detective with a Bardolph nose promptly 
appeared on the scenes, and, himself unobserved, followed 
the two gentlemen closely. Seeing them with papers in 
their hands, he made no doubt that they were drawing maps 
of the neighbourhood. He occasionally addressed them, and 
he hid himself for hours at a time behind a sandbank at the 
seaside, which was their favourite seat. According to Cole- 
ridge's account of the affair, which is, however, not entirely 
to be relied on, he at first thought that the two conspirators 
were aware of their danger, for he often heard them talk of 
one Spy-nosy, which he was inclined to interpret as a 
reference to himself ; but he was speedily convinced that it 
was the name of a man who had made a book and lived 
long ago. Their talk ran most upon books, and they were 
perpetually desiring each other to look at this and to listen 
to that; but he could not catch a word about politics, and 
ere long gave up the attempt and took himself off. 

There was, as a matter of fact, nothing alarming to 
discover. The two friends had long ago slept off their 
revolutionary intoxication, and even with the Spinoza about 
whom they talked so much they had only a second-hand 
acquaintance ; they discussed him without understanding 
him, much less assimilating him. Coleridge had made 
acquaintance with Spinozism in the course of his study of 
Schelling's early works, and he now initiated his friend, who 
was unlearned in philosophy, into his newly-acquired wisdom. 
But the name of Spinoza was in these conversations merely 
the symbol of a mystic worship of nature ; Jacob Bohme's 
was to be heard in peaceful conjunction with it. The matter 
under consideration was not science, but poetry ; and if, 
during these long discussions, there was any mention of a 
revolution, it was a purely literary and artistic revolution, 
with respect to which the two friends, from very different 

VOL. IV. C 



34 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

starting-points, had arrived at remarkably similar con- 
clusions. 

What was really accomplished in the course of these 
conversations was nothing less than that conscious literary 
rupture with the spirit of the eighteenth century, which, 
assuming different forms in different countries, took place at 
this time all over Europe. 

Coleridge was of an inquiring nature. His antipathy to 
French Classical powder and paint dated from his school- 
days, when a teacher of independent opinions had warned 
his intelligent pupil against harps, lutes, and lyres in his 
compositions, demanding pen and ink instead ; had bid him 
beware of Muses, Pegasus, Parnassus, and Hippocrene in 
poetry, affirming everything of the sort to be nothing but 
rococo style and convention. Coleridge, therefore, refused 
the title of poet to Pope and his successors, and swore 
by Bowies' sonnets. He decried Pope in the same 
manner as Oehlenschlager's young friends in Denmark 
soon afterwards decried Baggesen. His Germanic tem- 
perament made him the born enemy of esprit, epigram, 
and points. It appeared to him that the excellence of the 
school which had its origin in France had nothing to do 
with poetry. "The excellence consisted in just and acute 
observations on men and manners in an artificial state of 
society, as its matter and substance ; and in the logic of wit, 
conveyed in smooth and strong epigrammatic couplets, as its 
form. Even when the subject was purely fanciful the poet 
appealed to the intellect ; nay, even in the case of a con- 
secutive narration, a point was looked for at the end of each 
second line, and the whole was, as it were, a chain of 
epigrams/' In other words, the compositions of this school 
consisted, according to Coleridge, not of poetic thoughts, but 
of unpoetic thoughts translated into a language which was, 
by convention, called poetic. In the conception of the poem 
there was nothing fanciful ; nay, so little imagination did the 
author possess, that " it depended on the compositor's putting 
or not putting a small capital, whether the words should be 
personifications or mere abstracts." England's great poets, 
Spenser for example, had been able to express the most 



THE BEGINNINGS OF NATURALISM 35 

fanciful ideas in the purest, simplest of English ; but these 
newer writers could not express common, everyday thoughts 
except in such an extraordinarily bad and fantastic style that 
it seemed as if Echo and Sphinx had laid their heads together 
to produce it. Coleridge turned with aversion from these 
attempts to conceal want of imagination under affectation of 
style. He detested Odes to Jealousy, Hope, Forgetfulness, 
and all such abstractions. They reminded him of an Oxford 
poem on the subject of vaccination, which began : " Inocula- 
tion 1 heavenly maid, descend ! " Even in the best English 
poetry of a later day the bad habit of personifying abstrac- 
tions was too long adhered to. (Shelley, for example, 
presents us with " the twins Error and Truth.") All these 
affectations appeared to Coleridge to arise from the custom 
of writing Latin verses in the public schools. The model 
style, according to him, was that which expressed natural 
thoughts in natural language, " neither bookish nor vulgar, 
neither redolent of the lamp nor of the kennel." The old 
English ballads in Percy's collection, with their unadulterated 
natural, popular tone, seemed to him excellent guides. He, 
too, would fain write in such a tone. — 

It was at this stage that Coleridge was initiated into 
all Wordsworth's ideas and projects. Wordsworth's was one 
of those natures which find satisfaction and a sense of security 
in dogmatic and strongly condemnatory verdicts. His idea 
of the whole of English poetry after Milton was, that the 
nation, after producing that great man, had lost the poetic 
power it, formerly possessed and had preserved only a form 
of composition, so that poetry had come to mean the art of 
diction — the poet being judged by the degree of mastery he 
had attained in that art. Hence there had been an ever 
more marked departure in metrical composition from the 
rules of prose. The poet's aim now must be to retrace the 
path that had been taken, and produce verse which should 
be distinguished only by its metrical form from the language 
of daily life. Whilst Coleridge was all for natural melody, 
Wordsworth went the length of demanding that poetry should 
be simply rhymed conversation. 

And with this naturalistic conception of form was com- 



36 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

bined a similar naturalistic conception of the subject matter of 
poetry. One of Wordsworth's favourite assertions and one 
of the most bitter reproaches he levelled at the prevailing 
literary taste was, that hardly one original image or new 
description of nature had been introduced into English verse 
in the age between Milton and Thomson. Himself endowed 
with an extraordinary receptivity for all the phenomena of 
external nature, he took the cry : " Nature ! nature ! " for his 
watchword — and by nature he meant the country as opposed 
to the town. In town life men forgot the earth on which 
they lived. They no longer really knew it ; they remembered 
the general appearance of fields and woods, but not the 
details of the life of nature, not its varying play of smiling, 
sober, glorious, and terrible scenes. Who nowadays could 
tell the names of the various forest trees and meadow 
flowers? who knew the signs of the weather — what the 
clouds say when they hurry so, what those motions of the 
cattle mean, and why the mists roll down the hill ? Words- 
worth had known all these signs from the time when he 
played as a child among the Cumberland hills. He had a 
familiar acquaintance with all the varieties of English nature, 
at all seasons of the year ; he was constituted to reproduce 
what he saw and felt, and to meditate profoundly over it 
before he reproduced it — was fitted to carry out, with full 
consciousness of what he was undertaking, the reformation 
of poetry which had been begun by poor Chatterton, " the 
sleepless soul," and by the peasant Burns, a much more 
gifted poet than himself. Though he was but one of the 
numerous exponents of that love of nature which at the 
beginning of the century spread like a wave over Europe, he 
had a stronger, more profound consciousness than any man 
in the United Kingdom of the fact that a new poetic spirit 
was abroad in England. 

The friends agreed that there were three distinct periods 
of English poetry — the period of poetic youth and strength, 
from Chaucer to Dryden ; the period of poetic barrenness, 
from (and including) Dryden to the end of the eighteenth 
century ; and the period of regeneration, which was now 
beginning with themselves, after being heralded by their 



THE BEGINNINGS OF NATURALISM 37 

predecessors. Like the men of the new era in Germany and 
Denmark, these young Englishmen sought for imposing 
terms to express the difference between themselves and those 
whom they attacked ; and the terms they found were exactly 
the same as those adopted by their Continental contem- 
poraries. They credited themselves with imagination — in 
other words, with the true creative gift, and wrote page upon 
page of vague eulogy of it as opposed to fancy; exactly as 
Oehlenschlager and his school eulogised imagination and 
allowed Baggesen at best only humour. They themselves 
were distinguished by reason, their predecessors had only 
had understanding; they had genius, their predecessors had 
only had talent ; they were creators, their predecessors had 
only been critics. Even an Aristotle, not being a poet, could 
lay claim to no more than talent. In England, too, Noureddin 1 
was belittled ; the new men were conscious of the infinite 
superiority of their methods to his u un-natural " procedure. 

1 A character in the Danish poet Oehlenschlager's play, Aladdin, who represents 
talent as opposed to genius, which is embodied in Aladdin. 



STRENGTH AND SINCERITY OF THE LOVE OF 
NATURE 

Wordsworth's real point of departure, then, was the 
conviction that in town life and its distractions men had 
forgotten nature, and that they had been punished for it ; 
constant social intercourse had dissipated their energy and 
talents and impaired the susceptibility of their hearts to 
simple and pure impressions. Amongst his hundreds of 
sonnets there is one which is peculiarly eloquent of this 
fundamental idea. It is the well-known : — 

" The World is too much with us ; late and soon, 
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers ; 
Little we see in Nature that is ours ; 
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon 1 
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon, 
The winds that will be howling at all hours 
And are up-gather'd now like sleeping flowers, 
For this, for everything we are out of tune ; 
It moves us not— Great God ! I'd rather be 
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn, — 
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, 
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn ; 
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea ; 
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn." 

These are remarkable words to have come from Words- 
worth's pen — remarkable, because they show what all sincere 
naturalism really is, let it be decked with as many theistic 
trappings as it will. In its inmost essence it is akin to the 
old Greek conception of nature, and antagonistic to all the 
official creeds of modern days ; it is vitally impregnated with 
the pantheism which reappears in this century as the domi- 
nating element in the feeling for nature in every literature. 

38 



THE LOVE OF NATURE 39 

In the preceding volume of this work (The Romantic School in 
Germany) we made acquaintance with the pantheism which 
lay concealed under Tieck's Romantic view of nature. Now 
we come upon it in the form of the human being's self- 
forgetful and half unconscious amalgamation with nature, as 
a single tone in the great harmony of the universe. This 
idea has found expression in a curious little poem : — 

"A slumber did my spirit seal ; 
I had no human fears : 
She seem'd a thing that could not feel 
The touch of earthly years. 

No motion has she now, no force ; 

She neither hears nor sees ; 
RolPd round in earth's diurnal course 

With rocks, and stones, and trees." 

If we transport ourselves into the mood which gave 
birth to such a poem as this, we are conscious that it is the 
outcome of purely pantheistic ideas ; unconscious life is 
regarded as the basis and source of conscious life, and every 
earthly being is conceived of as having lain in nature's 
womb, an inseparable part of her until the moment when 
consciousness began. One of the germs of the poetry of the 
new century lies in this little poem ; for here, in place of the 
cultivated human being as developed and extolled by the 
eighteenth century, we have the human being as seen by the 
new era in the circle of his kin — birds and wild beasts, plants 
and stones. Christianity commanded men to love their 
fellow-men ; pantheism bade them love the meanest animal. 
Hart-Leap Well, undoubtedly one of Wordsworth's finest 
poems, a simple little romance in two parts, is a movingly 
eloquent plea for a poor, ill-used animal, a hunted stag — 
that is to say, a creature in whom the classical poets 
would have been interested only in the shape of venison, 
and belonging to the species which the admirers of the age 
of chivalry, including Scott himself, would have allowed 
their heroes to kill by the hundred. Deeply affecting, in 
spite of the comparative insignificance of its subject, 
grandly simple in its style, the little poem is a noble 



40 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

evidence of the heartfelt piety towards nature which is 
Wordsworth's patent of nobility. 

This piety in his case consists mainly in reverence for 
the childlike, and for the child. And this same reverence 
for the human being who in his unconsciousness is nearest 
to nature, is another of the characteristic features of the new 
century. In a little poem with which Wordsworth himself 
introduces all the rest, he writes : — 

"My heart leaps up when I behold 

A rainbow in the sky : 
So was it when my life began, 
So is it now I am a man, 
So be it when I shall grow old, 

Or let me die ! 
The Child is father of the Man : 
And I could wish my days to be 
Bound each to each by natural piety." 

Here we have reverence for the child developed to such 
an extent that it supplants reverence for age. But this con- 
ferring of his natural poetic rights on the child is, as the 
history of every country shows us, only one of the many 
signs of the reaction against the eighteenth century's worship 
of the enlightened, social human being, and its banishment 
of the child to the nursery. Wordsworth carries the reaction 
inaugurated by the nineteenth century to its logical con- 
clusion. In one of his sonnets he describes a walk which 
he takes on a beautiful evening with a little girl. After 
describing the tranquil evening mood — 

" The holy time is quiet as a nun 
Breathless with adoration ; " 

he turns to the child beside him, and says : 

" Dear child ! dear girl ! that walkest with me here, 
If thou appear untouch'd by solemn thought 
Thy nature is not therefore less divine : 
Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year, 
And worship'st at the Temple's inner shrine, 
God being with thee when we know it not." 

The pious ending is inevitable with Wordsworth ; but, 
as any intelligent reader may see for himself, it is only 



THE LOVE OF NATURE 41 

tacked on to the main idea, that of the child's own divine 
nature. In his famous Ode on Intimations of Immortality 
Wordsworth develops this idea with a fervour of enthusiasm 
which carried him too great a length for even such a devotee 
of naivet6 as Coleridge. A child of six he apostrophises 
thus : — 

" Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie 
Thy soul's immensity ; 
Thou best philosopher, who yet dost keep 
Thy heritage ; thou eye among the blind, 
That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep, 
Haunted for ever by the eternal Mind,— 
Mighty Prophet ! Seer blest ! 
On whom those truths do rest 
Which we are toiling all our lives to find." 

These assertions are, doubtless, explained away in a 
poetico-philosophical manner by the subsequent attribution 
of the child's greatness to the fact that it stands nearer than 
we do to the life before birth, and, consequently, to the " in- 
timations of immortality " ; but even this is not to be taken 
as Wordsworth's literal meaning, if we are to believe an 
assertion of Coleridge's which remained uncontradicted by 
the author. The child is revered as earth's "foster-child/ 
and 

" The Youth, who daily farther from the east 
Must travel, still is Nature's priest." 

In numerous poems Wordsworth refers to the strong im- 
pression made upon him as a youth by the pageantry of 
nature. In one of them, to which, according to his frequent 
custom, he gave a prolix title, Influence of Natural Objects in 
Calling Forth and Strengthening the Imagination in Boyhood and 
Early Youth, he thanks the Spirit of the Universe for having 
from the first dawn of his childhood intertwined for him 

" The passions that build up our human soul ; 
Not with the mean and vulgar works of man, — 
But with high objects, with enduring things, 
With life and nature, purifying thus 
The elements of feeling and of thought 

until we recognise 

A grandeur in the beatings of the heart." 



42 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Observe the vivid, delicate perception of nature in the 
following description : — 

" Nor was this fellowship vouchsafed to me 
With stinted kindness. In November days, 
When vapours rolling down the valleys made 
A lonely scene more lonesome ; among woods 
At noon ; and 'mid the calm of summer nights, 
When, by the margin of the trembling lake, 
Beneath the gloomy hills, I homeward went 
In solitude, such intercourse was mine : 
Mine was it in the fields both day and night, 
And by the waters, all the summer long ; 
And in the frosty season, when the sun 
Was set, and visible for many a mile, 
The cottage windows through the twilight blazed, 
I heeded not the summons :— happy time 
It was indeed for all of us ; for me 

, It was a time of rapture I— Clear and loud 
The village clock tolled six — I wheeled about, 
Proud and exulting like an untired horse 
That cares not for his home.— All shod with steel 
We hissed along the polished ice, in games 
Confederate, imitative of the chase 
And woodland pleasures, — the resounding horny 
The pack loud-chiming, and the hunted hare. 
So through the darkness and the cold we flew, 
And not a voice was idle : with the din 
Smitten, the precipices rang aloud ; 
The leafless trees and every icy crag 
Tinkled like iron ; while the distant hills 
Into the tumult sent an alien sound 
Of melancholy, not unnoticed, while the stars, 
Eastward, were sparkling clear, and in the west 
The orange sky of evening died away. 

Not seldom from the uproar I retired 

Into a silent bay, — or sportively 

Glanced sideway, leaving the tumultuous throng, 

To cut across the reflex of a star, 

Image, that, flying still before me, gleamed 

Upon the glassy plain : and oftentimes, 

When we had given our bodies to the wind, 

And all the shadowy banks on either side 

Came sweeping through the darkness, spinning still 

The rapid line of motion, then at once 

Have I, reclining back upon my heels, 



THE LOVE OF NATURE 43 

Stopped short ; yet still the solitary cliffs 
Wheeled by me— even as if the earth had rolled 
With visible motion her diurnal round ! 
Behind me did they stretch in solemn train, 
Feebler and feebler, and I stood and watched 
Till all was tranquil as a summer sea. 1 ' 

This is a picture of nature which it would be difficult to 
match in later English poetry. 

In one of his most beautiful and profound poems, Lines 
Composed a few Miles above Tiniern Abbey, Wordsworth has 
described his own feeling for nature in expressions which he 
declared that he recognised again in the most famous and 
most poetical passages of Byron's Childe Harold, and which, 
in any case, were indisputably epoch-making in English 
poetical art. He writes : — 

" For nature then 
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days, 
And their glad animal movements all gone by) 
To me was all in all — I cannot paint 
What then I was. The sounding cataract 
Haunted me like a passion : the tall rock, 
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood, 
Their colours and their forms, were then to me 
An appetite : a feeling and a love, 
That had no need of a remoter charm, 
By thought supplied, nor any interest 
Unborrowed from the eye." 

Granted that it was very absurd of Wordsworth to talk 
(to Moore in 1820) of Byron's plagiarisms from him, and 
to declare that the whole Third Canto of Childe Harold was 
founded on his style and sentiments — and granted that 
Lord John Russell is right when he remarks drily in this 
connection that if Wordsworth wrote the Third Canto of 
Childe Harold, it is his best work — it is, nevertheless, easy to 
understand that Wordsworth could not but feel as if, in the 
chief passages in that canto, and the celebrated passages 
about solitude in the*, earlier cantos, what was naturally ex- 
pressed by him had been worked by Byron into a laboured 
and antithetical sort of declamation. 1 It is not difficult to 

1 See Thomas Moore : Memoirs, iii. 161. 



44 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

discern, in these outbursts, the wounded vanity of a narrow 
mind which felt itself eclipsed ; but it cannot be denied that 
it really was Wordsworth who first struck the chord which 
Byron varied with such skill, nor that single striking and 
vivid lines of Wordsworth's had impressed themselves on 
Byron's memory. Who can read, for example, the following 
lines of Childe Harold (Canto iii. 72) : — 

" I live not in myselfj but I become 
Portion of that around me ; and to me 
High mountains are a feeling," 

without thinking of Wordsworth's verses just quoted ? And 
who can deny that Byron, as it were, adopted Wordsworth's 
idea, and added thoughts of his own to it when he wrote 
(Childe Harold, iii. 75): — 

" Are not the mountains, waves, and skies, a part 
Of me and of my soul, as I of them ? 
Is not the love of these deep in my heart 
With a pure passion ? should I not contemn 
All objects, if compared with these ? I, J 

Wordsworth, in Tintern Abbey, describes his passion 
vfor nature as something past, as something which only 
lasted for a moment during an age of transition, and very 
^soon turned into reflection and questioning; but Byron's 
passion is a permanent feeling, the expression of his nature. 
In his case the Ego in its relations with nature is not forced 
into the strait-jacket of orthodox piety ; no obstruction of 
dogma is set up between nature and him ; in his mystical 
worship of it he feels himself one with it, and this without 
the help of any deus ex machina. 

Passion is not the special characteristic of Wordsworth's 
attitude to nature. The distinguishing quality in his percep- 
tion and reproduction of natural impressions is of a more 
delicate and complex kind. The impression, although it is 
received by healthy, vigorously perceptive senses, is modified 
^ and subdued by pondering over it. It does not directly 
attune the poet to song. If Wordsworth can say, with 



THE LOVE OF NATURE 45 

Goethe : " I sing like the bird that sits on the bough/ 1 it is, 
at any rate, not like the nightingale that he sings ; his is not 
the love-song which streams forth, rich and full, telling of 
the intoxication of the soul and breaking and mocking at the 
silence of the night. He himself, after describing the song 
of the nightingale in similar terms to these, adds (Poems of 
Imagination, x.) : — 

u I heard a stock-dove sing or say 
His homely tale this very day ; 
His voice was buried among trees, 
Yet to be come at by the breeze ; 
He did not cease ; but cooed— and cooed ; 
And somewhat pensively he wooed : 
He sang of love with quiet blending, 
Slow to begin, and never ending ; 
Of serious faith and inward glee ; 
That was the song — the song for me I* 

It was himself that Wordsworth tried to paint in describ- ^ 
ing the pensive, serious wooer. According to the custom of 
so many poets, he attempted to formulate his methods into a 
theory and to prove that all good poetry must possess the 
qualities of his own. All good poetry is, he says, " the spon- 
taneous overflow of powerful feelings. But poems to which 
any value can be attached were never produced on any 
variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of 
more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and 
deeply." This theory he supports by the argument that *' our 
continued influxes of feeling are directed and modified by 
our thoughts, which are indeed the representatives of all our 
past feelings " — a profound and striking, if not scientifically 
satisfactory utterance, as well as an excellent characteri- 
sation of his own poetic thought and deliberation. 

His method consists, exactly defined, in storing up / 
natural impressions, in order to dwell on and thoroughly 
assimilate them. Later they are brought forth from the 
soul's store-house and gazed on and enjoyed again. To 
understand this peculiarity of Wordsworth's is to have the 
key to his originality. In Tintern Abbey he tells how the 
direct, passionate joy in the beauties of nature which he felt 



46 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

in his youth turned, in his riper years, into this quiet assimi- 
lation of the human-like moods of nature : — 

" That time is past, 
And all its aching joys are now no more, 
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this 
Faint I, nor mourn, nor murmur ; other gifts 
Have followed ; for such loss, I would believe, 
Abundant recompense. For I have learned 
To look on nature, not as in the hour 
Of thoughtless youth ; but hearing oftentimes 
The still, sad music of humanity, 
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power 
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt 
A presence that disturbs me with the joy 
Of elevated thoughts ; a sense sublime 
Of something far more deeply interfused, 
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, 
And the round ocean, and the living air, 
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man : 
A motion and a spirit, that impels 
All thinking things, all objects of all thought, 
And rolls through all things." 

In this passage Wordsworth has delimited his territory, has 
poetically yet plainly indicated his special province. What a 
contrast to Byron, who seldom or never heard the human 
voice in nature, and certainly never except in harsh and 
grating tones — the man who in Childe Harold actually calls 
human life " a false nature — not in the harmony of things ! " 
But we have not yet come to the most remarkable lines 
in Tintern Abbey, namely those in which Wordsworth de- 
scribes the silent influence on the mind of the hoarded, 
carefully preserved impressions of nature. He writes : — 

" These beauteous forms, 
Through a long absence, have not been to me 
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye : 
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din 
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them, 
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet, 
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart, 
And passing even into my purer mind, 
With tranquil restoration : — feelings, too, 
Of unremembered pleasure : such, perhaps, 



THE LOVE OF NATURE 47 

As have no slight or trivial influence 
On that best portion of a good man's life, 
His little, nameless, unremembered acts 
Of kindness and of love." 

And he asserts that he is indebted to the influence of nature 
for yet another gift, 

" Of aspect more sublime ; that blessed mood 
In which the burthen of the mystery, 
In which the heavy and the weary weight 
Of all this unintelligible world 
Is lightened " ; 

and his train of thought reaches its conclusion in the feeling 
of assurance that this happiness produced in him by the sight 
of the familiar places is not mere momentary pleasure, but 
life and food for future years. 

Again and again this last idea recurs in Wordsworth's 
poetry. We have it very marked, for instance, in No. xv. 
of the Poems of Imagination, in which he tells of the impression 
produced on him, during a lonely walk, by the sudden sight 
of " a host of golden daffodils," 

" Beside the lake, beneath the trees, 
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. 



y 



I gazed — and gazed — but little thought 
What wealth the show to me had brought 

For oft when on my couch I lie 
In vacant or in pensive mood, 
They flash upon that inward eye 
Which is the bliss of solitude, 
And then my heart with pleasure fills, 
And dances with the daffodils." 

Nothing could be more unlike the lyric poet' s usual habit 
of living in the present, than this lyric poet's conscious 
saving of the present for future use. He himself tells us 
that he is of a saving disposition ; he collects a winter store 
of bright summer moments ; and there is in this some- 
thing genuinely human, which is too often overlooked. 
But there is, above all, something national in it ; it is not 



48 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

surprising that English Naturalism should begin by carefully 
and economically providing itself with a store, a capital, of 
impressions of nature. 

We are all familiar with the feelings that might lead to 
the attempt. Many of us, gazing on the boundless blue 
ocean, sparkling in the sunlight, have felt that to have this 
sight before our eyes every day would widen the soul and 
cleanse it of all its little meannesses ; and we have turned 
away unwillingly and with the conscious desire to preserve 
the impression so as to be able to renew its effect. Or with 
beautiful landscapes before our eyes, especially those which 
we have seen in the course of travel, with the certainty of 
not being able to enjoy their beauty soon again, we have 
tried to be as passive as possible, so as to allow the picture 
to impress itself firmly on our memory. And we have often 
instinctively recalled the beautiful scene to mind ; for the soul 
involuntarily calls up bright memories to draw strength 
and courage from them. But in us such impressions have 
been almost effaced by stronger ones. We have not been 
able to preserve them efficaciously for the future, or to 
ruminate over them again and again. The preoccupations 
of society and of our own passions have made it impossible 
for us to find our deepest and most inspiring joy in memories 
of sunlight falling upon flowers, or of entwisted giant trees. 
But the soul of the English poet, whose mission it was to 
re-awaken the feeling for all these elementary moods and 
impressions, was of a different stamp ; unagitated by any 
practical activity, it vegetated in these day-dreams of natural 
beauty. And it is undeniable that this constant occupation 
of himself with the simplest natural impressions, kept his soul 
pure and free to perceive and to feel beauty in its simple, 
earthly manifestations, without fancifulness and without 
excitement. 

How rare is this capacity ! how often wanting in the very 
greatest and best minds ! And how quickly was it lost again in 
English poetry ! It displays itself most exquisitely and com- 
pletely in the few lightly-sketched female figures of the short 
poems. The heroes and heroines of the narrative poems, some 
of them portrayed with the design of arousing sympathy with 



THE LOVE OF NATURE 49 

the rural population and the lowest classes, others with the 
intention of edifying, are of distinctly inferior quality. But 
these few delicately-drawn figures, seen with the same 
tranquil and yet loving eyes with which Wordsworth looked 
at trees and birds, are nature itself. They are the English 
feminine nature ; and never have the essential qualities of 
this nature been more exactly expressed. Take as an example 
of what I mean, the following little poem : — 

" She was a phantom of delight 
When first she gleamed upon my sight 5 
A lovely apparition, sent 
To be a moment's ornament , 
Her eyes as stars of twilight fair ; 
Like twilight's too, her dusky hair : 
But all things else about her drawn 
From May-time and the cheerful dawn 5 
A dancing shape, an image gay, 
To haunt, to startle, and waylay. 

I saw her upon nearer view, 

A spirit, yet a woman too ! 

Her household motions light and free. 

And steps of virgin liberty ; 

A countenance in which did meet 

Sweet records, promises as sweet ; 

A creature not too bright or good 

For human nature's daily food ; 

For transient sorrows, simple wiles, 

Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles. 

And now I see with eye serene 
The very pulse of the machine ; 
A being breathing thoughtful breath, 
A traveller between life and death; 
The reason firm, the temperate will, 
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill ; 
A perfect woman, nobly planned, 
To warn, to comfort, and command ; 
And yet a spirit still, and bright 
With something of angelic light." 

This is a genuine, faithful portrait of the pattern English 
woman ; and to compare this sober, truthful description 
with the ideal women whom the greatest English poets a 

VOL. IV. D 



50 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

few years later found satisfaction in depicting, is to prepare 
an easy victory for Wordsworth. Take Shelley's description, 
in The Sensitive Plant, of the ethereal protectress of flowers 
and insects. The picture of the fairy-like beauty is charming, 
as everything is that comes from Shelley's pen ; her tender- 
ness for the plants and her touching compassion for all the 
small, ugly, despised animals, "the poor banished insects, 
whose intent, although they did ill, was innocent," are 
genuine human traits ; and yet she is not a real human 
being, any more than the Witch of Atlas is, or the dim 
heroine of Epipsychidion. Shelley, like the lark he sang of, 
was a "scorner of the ground." Or take the passionate 
Oriental heroines of Byron's earliest poetic narratives — 
Medora, Gulnare, Kaled. They never attain to the beautiful 
simplicity of this woman described by Wordsworth. Their 
passionateness is the principal quality impressed upon us ; 
their love, their devotion, their determination know no 
bounds. They are heroines invented for readers in whom 
the numbing life of crowded London and the constant 
occupation with contemporary great historical events, have 
induced a kind of nervous craving for the strongest intel- 
lectual stimulants. But from the very beginning Words- 
worth regarded it as a pleasant and profitable task to show 
how profoundly men's minds may be moved without the 
employment of coarse or violent stimulants. He knew that 
those who were accustomed to striking effects would be un- 
likely at first to appreciate works the distinguishing feature 
of which was their soft and natural colouring ; but he re- 
solved that he would turn the reader's expectations in the 
matter of the agencies of a poem back into the natural track. 



VI 

RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 

It is impossible thoroughly to understand Wordsworth's 
poetic strength and limitations without a glance at his life. 
We discover it to have been an unusually idyllic and com- 
fortable one. Belonging to the well-to-do middle class (his 
father was an attorney), he studied at Cambridge and then 
travelled. In 1795, not long after his return from abroad, 
he received a legacy of ^900 from an admirer of his genius, 
which, added to his share of a debt of ^8500 due to his father 
by an English nobleman, and paid to the family about this 
time, placed him in a position to live without taking up any 
profession. In 1802 he married; in 18 13 he settled at 
Rydal Mount in the Lake district. He held the appointment 
of Distributor of Stamps, which was practically a sinecure, 
from 181 3 to 1842, when he resigned in favour of one 
of his sons. The salary of this appointment was ^500. 
In 1843 he succeeded Southey as Poet Laureate, and as 
such enjoyed a pension of ^300 a year till his death, which 
occurred in 1850, when he had just completed his eightieth 
year. Sheltered on every side from the outward vicissitudes 
of life, he regarded them from a Protestant-philosophical 
point of view. 

A career such as this was not calculated to stir the 
passions ; nor is passion discoverable either in Wordsworth's 
life or his poetry. In the lives of most eminent authors we 
find some preponderant circumstance, one or more turning- 
points, one or other ostensible source of melancholy, or of 
strength of character, or of productivity ; in Wordsworth's 
nothing of the kind is to be found. No congenital mis- 
fortune crippled him, no implacably violent animosity 
goaded him and set its mark on his spirit. The critics did 



52 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

not spare him with mockery and contempt, and they con- 
tinued their attacks for a long time. From 1800 to 1820 
his poetry was trodden underfoot; from 1820 to 1830 it 
struggled; after 1830 it received universal recognition. 
But the animosity was not stupid and violent enough, the 
struggle was not hot enough, the victory not brilliant enough, 
to give colour and lustre to his career, or to make it a 
subject of song. His inmost, personal life was never so 
intense that it could absorb his poetry or provide it with 
subjects. On the contrary, it led him to look outwards. 
The wars on the Continent, the natural surroundings of his 
home, and the little, insignificant set of human beings 
amongst whom he lived, engrossed his thoughts. He was 
not, like Byron, too much absorbed in his own affairs to 
have tranquillity of mind to dwell upon the small things 
and the small people whom he exhibits and describes with 
tender sympathy. 

He undoubtedly felt himself the centre of his world. 
From his retired, idyllic home there issued from time to 
time collections of short poems or single long ones, provided 
with explanatory prefaces which, piling example on example, 
demonstrated to the reader that all great poets have been 
misunderstood or despised by their contemporaries ; that 
every author, in so far as he is great and at the same time 
original, is obliged to create the taste by means of which his 
works can be enjoyed. His predecesors have, no doubt, 
smoothed the way for all that he has in common with them ; 
but for what is peculiarly his own he is in the condition of 
Hannibal among the Alps. (Preface of 1815.) 

Wordsworth was well aware that no intellectual pioneer 
can expect complete recognition from any but his younger 
contemporaries. But the criticism meted out to him, which 
was not aggressive enough to rouse in him a recklessly 
bellicose spirit like Byron's, made him self-absorbed and 
arrogant. The one variety in his daily life was provided by 
occasional visits from admirers who were making a tour in 
the neighbourhood and had letters of introduction to him. 
These strangers he received surrounded by his admiring 
family ; he conversed with them in a cold and dignified 



RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 53 

manner, and not unfrequently repelled them by the egotism 
with which he quoted and praised his own works, the in- 
difference he manifested to everything else, the rigour with 
which he insisted on every outward sign of respect being 
shown him, and the solemnity with which he repeated even 
the most insignificant things that had been said in his 
praise. 

A number of anecdotes illustrating his egotism have 
been preserved. Thomas Moore (Memoirs, iii. 163) tells 
how one day, in a large party, Wordsworth, without 
anything having been previously said to introduce the sub- 
ject, called out suddenly from the top of the table to the 
bottom : " Davy, do you know the reason why I published 
the < White Doe ' in quarto ? " " No, what was it ? " " To 
show the world my opinion of it." He never read any works 
aloud but his own. At the time when Rob Roy, which has 
a motto taken from one of his poems, was published, he 
happened to be visiting a family who received the book the 
day it came out. They were all looking forward with eager- 
ness to the new tale. Wordsworth seized the book, and 
every one expected him to read the first chapters aloud ; 
but instead of doing this, he went to the bookcase, took out a 
volume of his own poetry, and read his poem aloud to the 
company. 

We have Emerson's notes written immediately after two 
different visits to Wordsworth, paid with a year's interval. 
After the second, he writes : " He was nationally bitter on 
the French : bitter on Scotchmen too. No Scotchman, he 
said, can write English. . . . His opinions of French, 
English, Irish, and Scotch seemed rashly formalised from 
little anecdotes of what had befallen himself and members 
of his family, in a diligence or stage-coach." After his first 
visit (in 1833) Emerson writes: "He had much to say of 
America, the more that it gave occasion for his favourite 
topic — that society is being enlightened by a superficial 
tuition, out of all proportion to its being restrained by moral 
culture. Schools do no good. Tuition is not education. 
... He wished to impress on me and all good Americans 
to cultivate the moral, the conservative, &c. ... He pro- 



54 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

ceeded to abuse Goethe's WUhelm Meister heartily. It was 
full of all manner of fornication. It was like the crossing of 
flies in the air. He had never gone farther than the first 
part ; so disgusted was he that he threw the book across 
the room. ... He cited his sonnet ' On the Feelings of a 
High-minded Spaniard/ which he preferred to any other (I 
so understood him), and ' The Two Voices ' ; and quoted, 
with evident pleasure, the verses addressed to the Skylark." 
These jottings give us an excellent idea of what Wordsworth 
was in ordinary intercourse : the contemptuous verdicts passed 
on all foreign races, the objection to modern civilisation (the 
same which the Mohammedans in Asia and Africa prefer 
against it to this day) that it is compatible with great immo- 
rality ; the eulogy on conventional morality as the society- 
preserving element (true morality being the most radical 
element in existence), the displeasure with Goethe (which 
reminds us of Novalis), and the recital of his own verses as 
finale ! 

Emerson sums up his impressions in the following 
words : "His face sometimes lighted up, but his conversa- 
tion was not marked by special force or elevation. ... He 
honoured himself by his simple adherence to truth, and was 
very willing not to shine ; but he surprised by the hard 
limits of his thought. To judge from a single conversation, 
he made the impression of a narrow and very English 
mind ; of one who paid for his rare elevation by general 
tameness and conformity." 

In 1843 Wordsworth and Dickens met for the first time. 
Wordsworth had a great contempt for all young men, and 
the mutual friend at whose house the meeting took place 
was, consequently, curious to learn his impression of the 
great humorist. "After pursing up his lips in a fashion 
peculiar to him, and swinging one leg over the other, the 
bare flesh of his ankles appearing over his socks, Words- 
worth slowly answered, * Why, I am not much given to turn 
critic on people I meet ; but, as you ask me, I will candidly 
avow that I thought him a very talkative, vulgar young 
person — but I dare say he may be very clever. Mind, I 
don't want to say a word against him, for I have never read 



RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 55 

a line he has written.' Some time after this the same 
querist guardedly asked Dickens how he had liked the Poet 
Laureate ? ' Like him ? Not at all. He is a dreadful 
old ass.'" 1 

The reader will naturally refuse to subscribe to so sweep- 
ing a judgment. But so much is certain, that in private 
intercourse there must have been something extremely irri- 
tating about Wordsworth. A contemporary declares that 
when he spoke he blew like a whale, and uttered truisms in 
an oracular tone. The word " truism " is applicable to more 
than his verbal utterances ; it applies to the whole reflective 
and didactic side of his poetry. In it there is no remarkable 
force or passion, but a Hamlet-like dwelling upon the great 
questions of " to be or not to be." " Birth, death, the 
future, the sufferings and misdeeds of man in this life, and 
his hopes of a life to come ; the littleness of us and our 
whole sphere of knowledge, and the awful relations in which 
we stand to a world of the supernatural — these, if any," 
says Masson, " are the permanent and inevitable objects of 
all human, as they were peculiarly of Wordsworth's, contem- 
plation and solicitude." * But these ideas, lying, as they do, 
rather at the circumference of the sphere of our knowledge 
than within it, unfortunately tempt us into certain ancient 
and well-worn tracks of thought that lead nowhere ; they go 
round in a ring, and we can follow them with a tranquil and 
dignified melancholy, but without much benefit either to 
ourselves or others. The fact that Wordsworth is perpetu- 
ally finding his way to this said circumference of the sphere 
of our knowledge, which adherents of the so-called revealed 
religions regard as the natural centre of our thoughts, has 
contributed more than anything else to prevent his fame, 
great as it is in England, from spreading to any considerable 
extent in other countries. 

When Coleridge made Wordsworth's personal acquaint- 
ance, the latter had already written enough to show plainly 
what was the nature of his originality. What struck 
Coleridge in Wordsworth's poetry " was the union of deep 

1 R. S. Mackenzie : Life of Dickens % p. 243. 

9 Masson : Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and other Essays, 



56 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

feeling with profound thought ; the fine balance of truth in 
observing, with the imaginative faculty in modifying the 
objects observed ; and, above all, the original gift of spreading 
the tone, the atmosphere of the ideal world around forms, 
incidents, and situations of which, for the common view, 
custom had bedimmed all the lustre." 

Wordsworth and Coleridge's first conversations turned 
upon what to them appeared the two cardinal points of 
poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader 
by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the 
power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying 
colours of imagination. The sudden charm which accidents 
of light and shade, which moonlight or sunset, diffuse over 
a known and familiar landscape, appeared to represent the 
practicability of combining both. These are the poetry of 
nature, and these were to be reproduced. It was not simply 
nature that was to be imitated, but the poetry of nature. 

The thought suggested itself that a series of poems might 
be composed of two sorts. In the one the incidents and 
agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural, and the 
excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the 
affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would 
naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real. 
And real in this sense they have been to every human being 
who, from whatever source of delusion, has at any time 
believed himself to be under supernatural agency. The 
execution of this part of the undertaking fell to Coleridge's 
share, and there can be no doubt whatever that the successful 
accomplishment of it was due to him. Any one at all well 
acquainted with European literature sees at once how closely 
related this task is to those which German Romanticism set 
itself and accomplished. The only thing peculiarly English 
is, that the emphasis is not laid upon the supernatural and 
fantastic, but upon the realistic element, so that Romanticism 
in this case becomes simply one of the forms of Naturalism. 

In the poems of the other sort the themes were to be chosen 
from real life. But Wordsworth, to whose share this division 
fell, resolved to communicate to the commonest and most 
natural events an unusual, new, almost supernatural colour by 



RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 57 

awakening the mind from the slumber of custom, and forcing 
it to direct its attention to the beauty and the marvels which 
the natural world is constantly offering to heedless man. He 
made the attempt for the first time in the Lyrical Ballads, / 
which in the preface are designated an u Experiment " — 
an experiment intended to prove the possibility of making 
themes unsuited to ornate representation attractive, even 
when presented to the reader in the language of real life 
— and he repeated it in hundreds of poems of extremely 
varied quality, whose heroes and heroines all belong to the 
lower and lowest classes, have followed rural avocations 
from their youth, and are represented on a background of 
rural life. 

In Danish literature there is no series of poems of this 
description ; but the careful student of Wordsworth will 
every now and then be reminded, by the form given to a 
poetic anecdote or by the tone of the narrator, of Runeberg's 
F&nrik Sl&l. There is occasionally even a resemblance of 
rhythm and metre. It would be interesting to know if 
Runeberg had any acquaintance with the works of the 
English poet. Possibly the whole faint resemblance is due 
to the fact that the incidents in the poems of both writers 
all occur in one small district — the neighbourhood of the 
English, and the neighbourhood of the Finnish Lakes. The 
difference is far more striking than the resemblance. In 
Runeberg we have a warlike background and mood, a fiery 
lyric style, patriotic ardour ; in Wordsworth, stagnant, rurally 
peaceful life, an epic attitude, and a purely local patriotism 
— attachment to the life and history of a couple of parishes. 
Runeberg's is a soldier's feeling for the army ; Words- 
worth's, a parish priest's for his flock. 

Resolution and Independence, one of Wordsworth's most 
characteristic, though certainly not one of his best poems, is 
a good example of his capacity and manner of casting over 
the most everyday incidents and phenomena a tinge of almost 
supernatural colour. The poet describes his walk on a 
summer morning — the glistening of the dew, the song of 
the birds, the fleet racing of the hare across the moor. 
Then it occurs to him that he himself has lived as thought- 



58 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

lessly as the beasts of the field and the birds of the air, and 
that such a life is only too likely one day to bring its own 
punishment. He calls to mind how many great poets have 
ended in misery, and the most prosaic fears for the future 
depress him. Then suddenly, in that lonely place, he comes 
upon an old man : — 

"The oldest man he seemed that ever wore grey hairs. 

As a huge stone is sometimes seen to lie 
Couched on the bald top of an eminence ; 
Wonder to all who do the same espy, 
By what means it could thither come and whence ; 
So that it seems a thing endued with sense : 
Like a sea-beast crawled forth, that on a shelf 
Of rock or sand reposeth, there to sun itself; 

Such seemed this man, not all alive nor dead, 

Nor all asleep — in his extreme old age : 

His body was bent double, feet and head 

Coming together in life's pilgrimage ; 

As if some dire constraint of pain, or rage 

Of sickness felt by him in times long past, 

A more than human weight upon his frame had cast. 



Motionless as a cloud the old man stood, 

That heareth not the loud winds when they call ; 

And moveth all together, if it move at all" 

How clever the double simile is, and what a feeling of 
mystery it produces ! The old man is like the gigantic 
stone on the top of the hill ; and the stone in its turn 
resembles some sea-beast which must have crawled 
up there. The impression of great age is most forcibly 
produced. This old man seems the oldest man that has 
ever lived. If we were in Germany or any other territory 
of Romanticism, we should not be surprised to learn that we 
had the shoemaker of Jerusalem before us. But we are in 
England, and our guide is Wordsworth ; and the old man 
turns out to be a most ordinary human being, by trade a 
leech-gatherer, an occupation suited to the capacity of the 
frail old inhabitants of a marshy district. The old man's 
confident, piously resigned words, his tranquillity of mind 



RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 59 

even in extreme loneliness and poverty, allay the young 
man's fears for the future ; and he resolves, whenever such 
fears beset him, to think of the leech-gatherer on the lonely 
moor. "This is not ode-flight," as Ewald remarks some- 
where or other ; but it is a good specimen of Wordsworth's 
power of giving a certain imprint of fantasy and grandeur 
to the most everyday, most realistic material by his manner 
of treating it. 

The attempt to exercise this capacity has, in not a few 
of Wordsworth's poems, resulted in caricature. It has 
always done so when he has tried to produce a mystically 
religious or terrifying effect by endowing some simply 
painful or odd incident with the so-called supernatural 
quality. We can call it nothing but childish when, in the 
poem entitled The Thorn, the narrator (whose position in 
life is not indicated, but whom Wordsworth himself told 
Coleridge he had imagined as an old ship captain, almost in 
his dotage) tells in the strain of horror with which one 
relates a ghost story, the tale of the poor mad woman who 
sits at night in a scarlet cloak, weeping and wailing, under 
the thorn tree. And Peter Bell, the poem which Wordsworth 
presented to the public with such a flourish of trumpets, but 
which, had it not been for Shelley's satire of the same name, 
would have been forgotten by this time, produces the effect 
of a parody. It tells of the terror induced in a coarse, cruel 
man by the supernatural fortitude with which a poor ass 
bears the most terrible blows rather than move — a terror 
which, in combination with the excited imaginings due to 
the darkness, brings about a complete change in the man. 
Time showed the reason of the ass's fortitude to have been 
its desire to draw attention to the fact that its master had 
fallen into the river at the spot where it was standing. We 
have here a striking contrast — the moral greatness of the 
brute and the brutish stupidity of the man — and Words- 
worth, who had no sense of the comic, did not fail to 
enlarge on the subject. 

And that he does so is not a mere accident, but 
a characteristic trait. The new school, with its dislike of 
the brilliant and its love of the simple and plain, felt a 



60 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

real attraction towards asses, these obstinate, patient, and 
peculiarly misunderstood children of nature, which are always 
outshone by less contented animals. Coleridge, in his poem, 
To a Young Ass — its mother being tethered near it, allowed him- 
self to be carried away by his enthusiasm to the extent of 
exclaiming : " I hail thee Brother 1 " and declaring that if it 
were granted him in a better and more equitably ordered 
state of society to provide peaceful pasture for this ass, its 
joyful bray would sound more melodious in his ears than the 
sweetest music. It is not surprising that the scoffer Byron 
promptly made merry over this fraternal greeting in his first 
satire, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. But in Coleridge 
this extreme Naturalism did not go deep ; he himself was the 
first to denounce his own excesses. Wordsworth, on the 
contrary, who was by nature consistent, not to say obstinate, 
carried purely literary Naturalism to its final and extreme 
conclusions. 

He almost always chose his themes from humble and rustic 
life ; and this he did, not for the same reason as the French 
writers of the previous century, who, themselves elegant and 
cultivated, enjoyed inelegance and uncultivatedness with a 
feeling of superiority, but because he believed that in that 
condition of life the essential passions of the heart find a better 
soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under 
restraint, and speak a plainer language. He was of opinion 
that in that condition our elementary feelings co-exist in a 
state of greater simplicity, and consequently may be more 
accurately contemplated than in town life ; and he was also 
persuaded that constant association with the beautiful and 
permanent forms of nature, in combination with the necessary 
and unchanging character of rural occupations, must make 
all feelings more durable and strong. 

Here, at the moment of the century's birth, we find the 
germs of the aesthetic movement, which, spreading from 
country to country, continued for more than fifty years to pro- 
duce, in Germany, France, and Scandinavia, peasant poetry 
and peasant tales, and in several countries a cult of the peasant 
dialect. By dissecting these germs in the manner of the bota- 
nist, we shall learn the complete natural history of the plant. 



RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 61 

Wordsworth's point of departure is purely topographical. 
There is more topography, taking the word in its widest 
sense, in his works than even in Scott's. His life-task was 
to describe English nature and English natures as he saw 
them, face to face. He would never describe anything with 
which he was not perfectly familiar, and he finally evolved the 
theory that it was necessary for every poet to associate him- 
self closely with some one particular spot. He associated 
himself with the English Lake district, which provided him 
with backgrounds for most of his poems. He went so 
far as to assert that the birthplace of the individual is 
the place best suited to be the scene of the activity of his 
whole life. 

Thus it was that he became the painter specially of 
English nature, and that his descriptions have an essentially 
local interest. Ruskin was right when he called Wordsworth 
the great poetical landscape painter of the period. Whilst 
Byron time after time escaped from his own country to 
paint the nature of Greece and the East in glowing foreign 
colours ; whilst Shelley shrank from the climate of England 
as death to a man of his delicate constitution, and never 
wearied of extolling the coast and rivers of Italy ; whilst 
Scott sang the praises of Scotland, and Moore tirelessly 
proclaimed the beauty of green Erin, Wordsworth stood alone 
as the pure-bred Englishman, deep-rooted in his native soil 
as some old spreading oak. His ambition was to be a true 
English descriptive poet. He had the most intimate, cir- 
cumstantial acquaintance with the life of the lower classes, 
and the rural life generally, of the district in which he had 
his home, walked, sailed, went to church, and received visits 
from his admirers. He has the same eye for it as a worthy 
and benevolent parish priest of the type he describes in The 
Excursion. To his special province belong all the events and 
calamities of common occurrence in an English country 
parish — the return of a totally forgotten son of the place, to 
find his home gone and the names of those dear to him 
carved on gravestones {The Brothers) ; the fate of a deceived 
and deserted girl {Ruth) ; an idiot boy's night ride for the 
doctor, with its mischances {The Idiot Boy); the strange 



62 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

adventure of a blind Highland boy, with its fortunate ending 
(The Blind Highland Boy) ; the sorrow caused to an excellent 
father by the degeneracy of his son (Michael) ; the un- 
fortunate carouse of a carrier beloved by the whole district, 
and his consequent dismissal from his post (described in 
four cantos under the title The Waggoner). 

The only thing un-English about the manner in which 
these events, even the more cheerful and amusing ones, are 
communicated to us, is the complete absence of humour. 
In the place of humour Wordsworth has, as Masson aptly 
puts it, "a hard, benevolent smile." But the pathos with 
which he relates the tragic or serious among these simple 
local stories is pure and heartfelt. It has neither the Pythian 
tremor nor modern fervour, but its effect is all the more 
powerful in the case of the great majority of readers, who 
prefer that the poet should not rise too high above their 
level, and are conscious of the helpful, healing quality in the 
compassion which is the source of the pathos — a compassion 
which resembles that of the clergyman or the doctor, and 
which, though less spontaneous than professional, moves us 
by the perfection of its expression. 

Nowhere more beautiful is this expression than in 
such poems as Simon Lee and The Old Cumberland Beggar. 
The former tells of an old huntsman who in his youth had 
surpassed all others in his skill with hounds and horn, his 
fleetness on foot and on horseback, but who has become so 
feeble that when the poet meets him one day he is struggling 
in vain to unearth the rotten root of an old tree. 

" You're overtasked, good Simon Lee, 
Give me your tool," to him I said ; 
And at the word right gladly he 
Received my proffered aid 
I struck, and with a single blow 
The tangled root I severed, 
At which the poor old man so long 
And vainly had endeavoured. 

The tears into his eyes were brought, 
And thanks and praises seemed to run 
So fast out of his heart, I thought 
They never would have done. 



RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 63 

I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds 
With coldness still returning ; 
Alas ! the gratitude of men 
Hath oftener left me mourning." 

Few poets have shown such beautiful reverence as 
Wordsworth for those humble ancients of the human race 
who, from no fault of their own, are helpless and useless. 
Of this The Old Cumberland Beggar is the best example. The 
poet tells how this man, whom every one knows, goes round 
the neighbourhood calling at every house. 

" Him from my childhood have I known ; and then 
He was so old, he seems not older now : 
He travels on, a solitary man, 
So helpless in appearance, that for him 
The sauntering horseman-traveller does not throw 
With careless hand his alms upon the ground, 
But stops, — that he may safely lodge the coin 
Within the old man's hat ; nor quits him so, 
But still, when be has given his horse the rein, 
Watches the aged beggar with a look 
Sidelong— and half-reverted. She who tends 
The toll-gate, when in summer at her door 
She turns her wheel, if on the road she sees 
The aged beggar coming, quits her work, 
And lifts the latch for him that he may pass. 
The post-boy, when his rattling wheels o'ertake 
The aged beggar in the woody lane, 
Shouts to him from behind ; and, if thus warned 
The old man does not change his course, the boy 
Turns with less noisy wheels to the road-side, 
And passes gently by — without a curse 
Upon his lips or anger in his heart 



But deem not this man useless. — Statesmen ! ye 
Who are so restless in your wisdom, ye 
Who have a broom still ready in your hands 
To rid the world of nuisances ; ye proud, 
Heart-swoln, while in your pride ye contemplate 
Your talents, power, and wisdom, deem him not 
A burthen of the earth ! Tis nature's law 
That none, the meanest of created things, 
Of forms created the most vile and brute, 



62 



NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 



adventure of a blind Highland boy, with its fortunate ending 
{The Blind Highland Boy) ; the sorrow caused to an excellent 
father by the degeneracy of his son {Michael) ; the un- 
fortunate carouse of a carrier beloved by the whole district, 
and his consequent dismissal from his post (described in 
four cantos under the title The Waggoner). 

The only thing un-English about the manner in which 
these events, even the more cheerful and amusing ones, are 
communicated to us, is the complete absence of humour. 
In the place of humour Wordsworth has, as Masson aptly 
puts it, "a hard, benevolent smile." But the pathos with 
which he relates the tragic or serious among these simp* e 
local stories is pure and heartfelt. It has neither the Pythian 
tremor nor modern fervour, but its effect is all the m °J? 
powerful in the case of the great majority of readers, w 
prefer that the poet should not rise too high above th^ 
level, and are conscious of the helpful, healing quality I* 1 
compassion which is the source of the pathos — a comp 3 
which resembles that of the clergyman or the doctor, 
which, though less spontaneous than professional, t»° ve! 
by the perfection of its expression. 

Nowhere more beautiful is this expression *£ ft 
such poems as Simon Lee and The Old Cumberland B fJ 
The former tells of an old huntsman who \ u tote ^°° 
surpassed all others in his *kill with ho U nds ^ 
fleetness on foot and on horseback, bug 
feeble that when the poet meets him J 
in vain to unearth the rotten root ^ 

" You're overtasked, g, 
Give me your tool, 
And at the word ri 

Received my 
I struck, and wi 
The tangled 
At which the 
And vainly h 

The tears in< 
And thanks 
So fast out 
They never 




RURAL LIFE ^JU IT OETST 

tdrtn 




Few poets lam hmwt 
Wordsworth for those name : 
who, from no faoh ir f«r 
Of this 7k Otf 
poet tcfls how fhs 
the neighbourhiKit: cal^x 



'Him 



saffc /fc> 


/ an 


umgae*r«u*1 


e of 
ae of 




It is 




ng. w 

r will 
s. 
theory 

quite 
rtance 
. His 
retical 
>f the 
1 was 

were 

thers, 

ugally 

The 

s, is a 

ridge 
which 
iester, 
i relief 
ctly in 

rtance 
nations 
e that 



64 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

The dullest or most noxious, should exist 
Divorced from good — a spirit and pulse of good, 
A life and soul ; to every mode of being 
Inseparably linked. 



Where'er the aged beggar takes his rounds, 
The mild necessity of use compels 
To acts of love ; and habit does the work 
Of reason ; yet prepares that after-joy 
Which reason cherishes. And thus the soul, 
By that sweet taste of pleasure unpursued, 
Doth find itself insensibly disposed 
To virtue and true goodness. . . . 

The easy man 

Who sits at his own door, — and, like the pear 
That overhangs his head from the green wall, 
Feeds in the sunshine ; the robust and young, 
The prosperous and unthinking, they who live 
Sheltered, and flourish in a little grove 
Of their own kindred ; — all behold in him 
A silent monitor, which on their minds 
Must needs impress a transitory thought 
Of self-congratulation." 

Though it must be confessed that this is a sermon, it is a 
sermon in the very best style. In that same Naturalism which 
in due time consistently developed into pure humanism and 
revolt against convention, there was at first an inclination to 
admonition and to evangelic piety. It sought out the simple- 
hearted, the poor, the mean in the eyes of the world — for 
this was Gospel morality. It rejected the highly cultured, 
and chose as its heroes fishermen and peasants — in this also 
following Gospel example. Hence it is that we have in 
Wordsworth perfectly consistent worship of nature along 
with the exhortatory and evangelically homiletic element 
which finds such favour in England. And even his purely 
didactic poems are not to be indiscriminately rejected. 
There is often a peculiar grandeur in the manner in which 
the simple lesson is enforced. There is, for instance, real 
sublimity in the passage in Laodamia in which it is impressed 
upon the sorrowing wife that, instead of craving for the 
return of her husband, she ought to renounce her desire, 



RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 65 

and purify herself through her love to enjoy another, nobler, 
more spiritual life : — 

" Learn by a mortal yearning to ascend 
Towards a higher object — Love was given, 
Encouraged, sanctioned, chiefly for that end : 
For this the passion to excess was driven — 
That self might be annulled" 

Even the abstract Ode to Duty, which is inspired by an 
enthusiasm of the nature of Kant's, contains a couple of 
magnificent lines which are as contrary to reason as one of 
the sublime paradoxes of the Fathers of the Church. It is 
to Duty that the poet cries : 

" Thou dost preserve the Stars from wrong ; 
And the most ancient Heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong." 

From all the poems of this species, however, the reader will 
quickly turn again to Wordsworth's specialty, his idylls. 

Let us cast another glance at these, and at the theory 
which their author intended them to illustrate. It is quite 
certain that Wordsworth attributed more poetical importance 
to the representation of rural life than is really its due. His 
surroundings were calculated to produce this theoretical 
overvaluation. The possibility of making heroes of the 
shepherd-farmers of Cumberland and Westmoreland was 
due to the fact that these men (who, though they were 
independent enough not to be compelled to work for others, 
were nevertheless obliged to lead an industrious, frugally 
simple life) possessed real poetical qualifications. The 
theory that rural life in itself improves and ennobles, is a 
superstition ; it is quite as apt to dull and blunt Coleridge 
has, for example, pointed out that when the manner in which 
the poor-laws were administered in Liverpool, Manchester, 
and Bristol, was compared with the manner in which relief 
was distributed in the country, the result was distinctly in 
favour of the towns. 

Wordsworth has, further, over-estimated the importance 
of the part which the representation of rural occupations 
plays in his own poetry. Not only do we observe that 
VOL. iv. E 



64 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

The dullest or most noxious, should exist 
Divorced from good — a spirit and pulse of good, 
A life and soul ; to every mode of being 
Inseparably linked. 



Where'er the aged beggar takes his rounds, 
The mild necessity of use compels 
To acts of love ; and habit does the work 
Of reason ; yet prepares that after-joy 
Which reason cherishes. And thus the soul, 
By that sweet taste of pleasure unpursued, 
Doth find itself insensibly disposed 
To virtue and true goodness. . . . 

The easy man 

Who sits at his own door, — and, like the pear 
That overhangs his head from the green wall, 
Feeds in the sunshine ; the robust and young, 
The prosperous and unthinking, they who live 
Sheltered, and flourish in a little grove 
Of their own kindred ; — all behold in him 
A silent monitor, which on their minds 
Must needs impress a transitory thought 
Of self-congratulation." 

Though it must be confessed that this is a sermon, it is a 
sermon in the very best style. In that same Naturalism which 
in due time consistently developed into pure humanism and 
revolt against convention, there was at first an inclination to 
admonition and to evangelic piety. It sought out the simple- 
hearted, the poor, the mean in the eyes of the world — for 
this was Gospel morality. It rejected the highly cultured, 
and chose as its heroes fishermen and peasants — in this also 
following Gospel example. Hence it is that we have in 
Wordsworth perfectly consistent worship of nature along 
with the exhortatory and evangelically homiletic element 
which finds such favour in England. And even his purely 
didactic poems are not to be indiscriminately rejected. 
There is often a peculiar grandeur in the manner in which 
the simple lesson is enforced. There is, for instance, real 
sublimity in the passage in Laodamia in which it is impressed 
upon the sorrowing wife that, instead of craving for the 
return of her husband, she ought to renounce her desire, 



RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 65 

and purify herself through her love to enjoy another, nobler, 
more spiritual life : — 

M Learn by a mortal yearning to ascend 
Towards a higher object — Love was given, 
Encouraged, sanctioned, chiefly for that end : 
For this the passion to excess was driven — 
That self might be annulled." 

Even the abstract Ode to Duty, which is inspired by an 
enthusiasm of the nature of Kant's, contains a couple of 
magnificent lines which are as contrary to reason as one of 
the sublime paradoxes of the Fathers of the Church. It is 
to Duty that the poet cries : 

" Thou dost preserve the Stars from wrong ; 
And the most ancient Heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong." 

From all the poems of this species, however, the reader will 
quickly turn again to Wordsworth's specialty, his idylls. 

Let us cast another glance at these, and at the theory 
which their author intended them to illustrate. It is quite 
certain that Wordsworth attributed more poetical importance 
to the representation of rural life than is really its due. His 
surroundings were calculated to produce this theoretical 
overvaluation. The possibility of making heroes of the 
shepherd-farmers of Cumberland and Westmoreland was 
due to the fact that these men (who, though they were 
independent enough not to be compelled to work for others, 
were nevertheless obliged to lead an industrious, frugally 
simple life) possessed real poetical qualifications. The 
theory that rural life in itself improves and ennobles, is a 
superstition ; it is quite as apt to dull and blunt. Coleridge 
has, for example, pointed out that when the manner in which 
the poor-laws were administered in Liverpool, Manchester, 
and Bristol, was compared with the manner in which relief 
was distributed in the country, the result was distinctly in 
favour of the towns. 

Wordsworth has, further, over-estimated the importance 
of the part which the representation of rural occupations 
plays in his own poetry. Not only do we observe that 
VOL. iv. E 



64 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

The dullest or most noxious, should exist 
Divorced from good— a spirit and pulse of good, 
A life and soul ; to every mode of being 
Inseparably linked. 



Where'er the aged beggar takes his rounds. 
The mild necessity of use compels 
To acts of love ; and habit does the work 
Of reason ; yet prepares that after-joy 
Which reason cherishes. And thus the soul, 
By that sweet taste of pleasure unpursued, 
Doth find itself insensibly disposed 
To virtue and true goodness. . . . 

The easy man 

Who sits at his own door, — and, like the pear 
That overhangs his head from the green wall, 
Feeds in the sunshine ; the robust and young, 
The prosperous and unthinking, they who live 
Sheltered, and flourish in a little grove 
Of their own kindred ; — all behold in him 
A silent monitor, which on their minds 
Must needs impress a transitory thought 
Of self-congratulation." 

Though it must be confessed that this is a sermon, it is a 
sermon in the very best style. In that same Naturalism which 
in due time consistently developed into pure humanism and 
revolt against convention, there was at first an inclination to 
admonition and to evangelic piety. It sought out the simple- 
hearted, the poor, the mean in the eyes of the world — for 
this was Gospel morality. It rejected the highly cultured, 
and chose as its heroes fishermen and peasants — in this also 
following Gospel example. Hence it is that we have in 
Wordsworth perfectly consistent worship of nature along 
with the exhortatory and evangelically homiletic element 
which finds such favour in England. And even his purely 
didactic poems are not to be indiscriminately rejected. 
There is often a peculiar grandeur in the manner in which 
the simple lesson is enforced. There is, for instance, real 
sublimity in the passage in Laodamia in which it is impressed 
upon the sorrowing wife that, instead of craving for the 
return of her husband, she ought to renounce her desire, 



RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 65 

and purify herself through her love to enjoy another, nobler, 
more spiritual life : — 

M Learn by a mortal yearning to ascend 
Towards a higher object — Love was given, 
Encouraged, sanctioned, chiefly for that end : 
For this the passion to excess was driven — 
That self might be annulled." 

Even the abstract Ode to Duty, which is inspired by an 
enthusiasm of the nature of Kant's, contains a couple of 
magnificent lines which are as contrary to reason as one of 
the sublime paradoxes of the Fathers of the Church. It is 
to Duty that the poet cries : 

" Thou dost preserve the Stars from wrong ; 
And the most ancient Heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong." 

From all the poems of this species, however, the reader will 
quickly turn again to Wordsworth's specialty, his idylls. 

Let us cast another glance at these, and at the theory 
which their author intended them to illustrate. It is quite 
certain that Wordsworth attributed more poetical importance 
to the representation of rural life than is really its due. His 
surroundings were calculated to produce this theoretical 
overvaluation. The possibility of making heroes of the 
shepherd-farmers of Cumberland and Westmoreland was 
due to the fact that these men (who, though they were 
independent enough not to be compelled to work for others, 
were nevertheless obliged to lead an industrious, frugally 
simple life) possessed real poetical qualifications. The 
theory that rural life in itself improves and ennobles, is a 
superstition ; it is quite as apt to dull and blunt. Coleridge 
has, for example, pointed out that when the manner in which 
the poor-laws were administered in Liverpool, Manchester, 
and Bristol, was compared with the manner in which relief 
was distributed in the country, the result was distinctly in 
favour of the towns. 

Wordsworth has, further, over-estimated the importance 
of the part which the representation of rural occupations 
plays in his own poetry. Not only do we observe that 
VOL. iv. E 



64 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

The dullest or most noxious, should exist 
Divorced from good — a spirit and pulse of good, 
A life and soul ; to every mode of being 
Inseparably linked. 



Where'er the aged beggar takes his rounds, 
The mild necessity of use compels 
To acts of love ; and habit does the work 
Of reason ; yet prepares that after-joy 
Which reason cherishes. And thus the soul, 
By that sweet taste of pleasure unpursued, 
Doth find itself insensibly disposed 
To virtue and true goodness. . . . 

The easy man 

Who sits at his own door, — and, like the pear 
That overhangs his head from the green wall, 
Feeds in the sunshine ; the robust and young, 
The prosperous and unthinking, they who live 
Sheltered, and flourish in a little grove 
Of their own kindred ; — all behold in him 
A silent monitor, which on their minds 
Must needs impress a transitory thought 
Of self-congratulation." 

Though it must be confessed that this is a sermon, it is a 
sermon in the very best style. In that same Naturalism which 
in due time consistently developed into pure humanism and 
revolt against convention, there was at first an inclination to 
admonition and to evangelic piety. It sought out the simple- 
hearted, the poor, the mean in the eyes of the world — for 
this was Gospel morality. It rejected the highly cultured, 
and chose as its heroes fishermen and peasants — in this also 
following Gospel example. Hence it is that we have in 
Wordsworth perfectly consistent worship of nature along 
with the exhortatory and evangelically homiletic element 
which finds such favour in England. And even his purely 
didactic poems are not to be indiscriminately rejected. 
There is often a peculiar grandeur in the manner in which 
the simple lesson is enforced. There is, for instance, real 
sublimity in the passage in Laodatnia in which it is impressed 
upon the sorrowing wife that, instead of craving for the 
return of her husband, she ought to renounce her desire, 



RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 65 

and purify herself through her love to enjoy another, nobler, 
more spiritual life : — 

" Learn by a mortal yearning to ascend 
Towards a higher object. — Love was given, 
Encouraged, sanctioned, chiefly for that end : 
For this the passion to excess was driven — 
That self might be annulled" 

Even the abstract Ode to Dufy, which is inspired by an 
enthusiasm of the nature of Kant's, contains a couple of 
magnificent lines which are as contrary to reason as one of 
the sublime paradoxes of the Fathers of the Church. It is 
to Duty that the poet cries : 

" Thou dost preserve the Stars from wrong ; 
And the most ancient Heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong." 

Prom all the poems of this species, however, the reader will 
quickly turn again to Wordsworth's specialty, his idylls. 

Let us cast another glance at these, and at the theory 
which their author intended them to illustrate. It is quite 
certain that Wordsworth attributed more poetical importance 
to the representation of rural life than is really its due. His 
surroundings were calculated to produce this theoretical 
overvaluation. The possibility of making heroes of the 
shepherd-farmers of Cumberland and Westmoreland was 
due to the fact that these men (who, though they were 
independent enough not to be compelled to work for others, 
were nevertheless obliged to lead an industrious, frugally 
simple life) possessed real poetical qualifications. The 
theory that rural life in itself improves and ennobles, is a 
superstition ; it is quite as apt to dull and blunt. Coleridge 
has, for example, pointed out that when the manner in which 
the poor-laws were administered in Liverpool, Manchester, 
and Bristol, was compared with the manner in which relief 
was distributed in the country, the result was distinctly in 
favour of the towns. 

Wordsworth has, further, over-estimated the importance 
of the part which the representation of rural occupations 
plays in his own poetry. Not only do we observe that 

VOL. IV. E 



66 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

many of the principal personages in his best poems (such 
as Ruth, Michael, The Brothers) are not expressly peasants or 
dwellers in the country ; but we are also conscious that his 
passion for Naturalism and, in close connection with this, his 
inclination to try to edify by glorification of the lower classes, 
have often led him to attribute to a man or woman of low 
position, qualities and powers which there is little probabi- 
lity of his or her possessing. A paradox which he enounces 
with evident satisfaction in The Excursion is, that many a 
gifted poet exists, unsuspected, among the lower classes. 1 
It is satisfactory to a man with Wordsworth's religious 
tendencies to believe that talent is independent of wealth 
and outward position. But even allowing this to be 
true, would it not still be absurd to make the poet-hero 
of a poem a chimney-sweep by profession, and then ex- 
plain in a carefully invented biography how it came to pass 
that he was, at one and the same time, poet, philosopher, and 
sweep ? Only in real biography are such phenomena per- 
missible ; in fiction, Naturalism carried to such an extreme 
repels by its unlikeliness. And what difference is there 
between this and the many cases in which Wordsworth 
puts into the mouth of a pedlar, a leech-gatherer, a labourer, 
words which we cannot but be astonished to hear from 
such lips ? Hence, to justify and explain his characters, 
he is obliged to introduce numbers of accidental, subordi- 
nate details of the kind required to prove the possibility 
of a fact in real life, but of the kind which we willingly 
forgo in poetry. The excessive attention paid to probability, 
the petty anxiety to explain the reason of everything, have a 
fatiguing effect — especially in the long introductions and 
descriptions in The Excursion, which Byron wittily calls 
Wordsworth's " eternal : Here we go up, up, and up, 
and here we go down, down, and here round about, round 
about ! " 

Wordsworth's choice of themes leads him, moreover, to 

1 Oh ! many are the poets that are sown 
By nature 1 men endowed with highest gifts, 
The vision and the faculty divine, 
Yet wanting the accomplishment of verse. 

— Excursion : Book L 



RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 67 

a singularity in the matter of language which may be termed 
the extreme literary issue of this Naturalism. It was his 
theory that the language spoken by the class which he 
described was, when purified from its defects, the best of/ 
all, "because such men hourly communicate with the 
best objects from which the best part of language is origin- 
ally derived ; and because, from their rank in society and 
the sameness and narrow circle of their intercourse, being 
less under the influence of social vanity, they convey their 
feelings and emotions in simple and unelaborated expres- 
sions." It is, consequently, his opinion, that it is impos- 
sible for any author to find a better manner of expression, 
no matter whether he is writing in prose or in verse. And 
this leads him to the enunciation of his famous and interest- 
ing paradox : that there neither is nor can be any essential differ- ^ 
ence between the language of prose and metrical composition. If 
this only meant disapprobation of all the tiresome and 
foolish distortions of language, to which the scarcity of 
rhymes and the lack of the gift of rhythm have driven 
so many of even the most eminent poets, we should 
heartily agree with him. Theodore de Banville has, with 
reason on his side — though it is the severe reason which 
demands the impossible — given as contents to the chapter 
in his Petit Traits de Potsie fran^aise entitled Licentia 
poetica } simply the words : " II n'y en a pas." But it is an 
entirely different meaning which Wordsworth intends his 
maxim to convey. He maintains not only that the lan- 
guage of a large portion of every good poem must neces- 
sarily, except with reference to the metre, in no respect 
differ from that of good prose, but likewise that some of the 
most interesting parts of the very best poems will be found 
to be strictly the language of prose. For, however lively 
and truthful the poet's language may be, there cannot be 
a doubt, says Wordsworth, that it must, in liveliness and 
truth, fall far short of that which is uttered by men in real 
life ; in other words — it can never surpass, and only at its 
best approach, the prose of reality. This theory he defended 
with genuine English obstinacy against the attacks made 
upon it from every direction. He quotes, as a specimen of 



68 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

the parodies of poetry in which the language closely re- 
sembles that of life and nature, Dr. Johnson's stanza: 

" I put my hat upon my head 
And walked into the Strand, 
And there I met another man, 
Whose hat was in his hand." 

This is not poetry, says the public. Granted ! says 
Wordsworth. But the proper thing to be said is not : This is 
not poetry ; but : This is wanting in meaning ; it is neither 
interesting in itself, nor can it lead to anything interesting ; 
consequently it cannot excite thought or feeling in the reader. 
"Why take pains to prove that an ape is not a Newton, 
when it is self-evident that he is not a man ? " The accepted 
idea is, according to Wordsworth, that an author, by the 
act of writing in verse, makes a formal engagement that 
he will gratify certain known habits of association, that 
certain classes of idea and expression will be found in 
his book, but that others will be carefully excluded. This 
doctrine Wordsworth opposes with the declaration of his con- 
viction of the similarity of good poetry and good prose, a 
conviction which was founded on dislike of poetic affecta- 
tion, but which led him in his own poetry, now to the 
narrowest limitation, now to the utmost possible flattening 
out of his own in many respects masterly and model 
style. 

There is more than one argument against the extremely 
high estimation of the language of the rural population 
which forms Wordsworth's starting-point, and which is not 
without its resemblance to the cult of the peasant language 
initiated in Denmark by Grundtvig and in Norway by the 
" Maalstraevere " (agitators for the universal employment of 
the peasant language). The principal one is, that the 
language of the peasant, purified, as Wordsworth demands, 
from provincial expressions and subjected to the rules of 
grammar, is not different from that of any other sensible 
man, except in this, that the peasant's ideas are fewer and 
vaguer. By reason of its inferior degree of development, his 
mind dwells only upon single, isolated facts, drawn from 



RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 69 

his own narrow experience, or from the records of tradi- 
tional belief, whereas the educated man sees the connection 
between things, and seeks for universal laws. Wordsworth 
is of opinion that the best part of language is derived from 
the objects which surround and occupy the peasant. But 
the ideas connected with food, shelter, safety, comfort, are 
surely not those which provide the best part of language. 
Nor can we agree with him when he asserts that nothing 
but the infusion of a certain degree of passion into this 
language is required to entitle it to be called poetic ; for 
passion neither creates new thoughts nor new provision 
of words ; it only increases the force of those already in 
existence ; it cannot be expected to make the language of 
daily intercourse poetry, when it is hardly capable of making 
it prose. 

What strikes us from the very first in Wordsworth's 
vindication of Naturalism is his confounding of two things — 
prose, and what he calls " ordinary language," terms which 
he applies indiscriminately. Good prose is language which 
has been purified from the vain and meaningless repeti- 
tions and the uncertain, halting phraseology which are the 
inevitable outcome of the confusion due to insufficient 
education. Wordsworth has too frequently neglected this 
purifying process, when introducing dramatic dialogue into 
his own poems. It is this unfortunate passion for the most 
grovellingly exact imitation, which produces the sudden and 
disagreeable transitions from passages in a noble, elevated 
style, to passages with no style at all. See, for example, 
The Blind Highland Boy. 

44 Poetry," says Wordsworth, " takes its origin from 
emotion recollected in tranquillity." The aim of the poet 
is the truthful imitation of nature, with the one restric- 
tion, that of the necessity of giving pleasure — not merely the 
straightforward, direct truth ; therefore he employs the 
metrical form of composition, which provides the reader 
with small, but continual and regular impulses of pleasur- 
able surprise. Metre produces its effect by continually 
arousing and satisfying curiosity, but in such a simple 
manner that it does not draw any separate attention to 



70 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

itself. It acts powerfully but unobservedly upon the mind, 
like artificially altered air, or the wine drunk during an 
eager discussion. By its steady recurrence it tempers and 
modifies the excitement or pain produced by the intelligence 
communicated ; and by its tendency to divest language of its 
reality, it throws a sort of half consciousness of unsubstantial 
existence over the whole composition. Except for this, de- 
clares Wordsworth, even the best poetry can in no respect 
differ from prose. He forgets to ask himself if there are not 
numbers of common phrases and expressions which, though 
they are perfectly allowable in prose, would produce a 
most unpleasant effect in poetry ; and forgets, too, to ask 
if it is not possible that in every serious poem there may 
occur, without any artificiality, sentences of a construc- 
tion, and imagery of a kind, which would be impossible in 
prose. 

The only way in which the best poetry corresponds 
with "the very language of men," is in its expressions 
resembling those which some few of the most highly culti- 
vated would use on the rarest occasions. In daily con- 
verse language wanders unrestrainedly ; in public speech it 
is restrained by imperative connection and continuity of 
thought ; in the prose work, the carefully elaborated sentence 
progresses naturally through all its twists and turnings ; in 
verse, the form cannot be too exquisite or too compact. 
Here the doctrine applies which Th6ophile Gautier preached 
in his splendid poem, LArt : — 

u Oui, l'oeuvre sort plus belle 
D'une forme au travail 
Rebelle, 
Vers, marbre, onyx, email t 

Point de contraintes fausses t 
Mais que pour marcher droit 
Tu chausses, 
Muse, un cothurne £troit 1 " 

But, however much there is to be said against Wordsworth's 
poetics, or " prosaics," as they might more correctly be 



RURAL LIFE AND ITS POETRY 71 

called — against theories which were at first accepted as 
synonymous with the " Fair is foul, and foul is fair " of the 
witches in Macbeth — they are in the highest degree interesting 
to the student of literature to-day as an accurate and un- 
ambiguous expression of the first literary extreme to which 
English Naturalism went. 



VII 
NATURALISTIC ROMANTICISM 

We have for a moment lost sight of Coleridge. When 
Wordsworth and he divided the new kinds of poetry between 
them, there fell to his share, as the reader will remember, a 
task which was the exact opposite of Wordsworth's, namely, 
the treating of supernatural subjects in a natural manner. 
He fulfilled it in his contributions to the volume published 
under the title of Lyrical Ballads, and indeed in the greater 
proportion of the little collection of poems which entitles him 
to rank high among English poets. ' 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a country boy, the son of 
a Devonshire clergyman. He was born in October 1772. 
From 1782 to 1790 he was at school in London. It was 
during those school-days, spent at Christ's Hospital, that 
his friendship with another English Romanticist, his warm 
admirer, Charles Lamb, was formed. From 1791 to 1793 
he studied at Cambridge. He had neither means nor pro- 
spects, and in a fit of despair, occasioned either by his debts 
or by an unhappy love affair, he suddenly enlisted in the 
15 th Regiment of Light Dragoons, under the name of Silas 
Titus Cumberback. 1 It certainly does not seem to have been 
ambition (as in the case of Johannes Ewald a few years 
earlier) which prompted him to try his fortune as a soldier, 
but simply want of any other means of subsistence. He was 
only four months a dragoon. On the stable wall under- 
neath his saddle, he one day scribbled the Latin lament : — 

" Eheu quam infortuni xniserrimum est fuisse felicem 1 * 



1 u Being at a loss, when suddenly asked my name, I answered Cumberback ; and 
▼erily my habits were so little equestrian, that my horse, I doubt not, was of that 
opinion." 



NATURALISTIC ROMANTICISM 73 

This was discovered by his captain, who inquired into the 
position of affairs, and arranged with Coleridge's family 
for his return to Cambridge. On this followed the short 
period during which the young poet was an anti-orthodox 
democrat. As such he could expect no advancement in the 
University. His and Southey's glorification of Robespierre 
(the first act of The Fall of Robespierre was written by Cole- 
ridge, the second and third are Southey's) and their wild 
project of a communistic settlement have been already men- 
tioned. The little emigrant society they founded consisted 
only of themselves and two other members, a young Quaker 
named Lovell, and George Burnet, a school friend of Southey's. 
But the God Hymen had decided that the year 1795 should 
witness the wreck of the plans which boded so ill for society. 
In 1795 Coleridge went to lecture at Bristol, where he dis- 
played the eloquence which (as in the case of the similarly 
eloquent and persuasive Welhaven) seems to have sapped his . 
power of poetic production. A young lady in the town of 
Bristol won his heart ; and before the year was over, Sara 
Fricker was married to Coleridge, her sisters, Edith and 
Mary, to Lovell and Southey — and the emigration plan was 
abandoned. Coleridge, who was without will-power all his 
life, could never have carried out a plan laid so long 
beforehand. He never succeeded in doing anything except 
what he had not determined to do, or what, from its nature, 
could not be determined beforehand. 

In 1796 the young man, who was still an enthusiastic 
Unitarian, allowed himself to be persuaded by some other 
philanthropists — he is always "persuaded" — to publish a 
weekly magazine called The Watchman, which was to consist 
of thirty-two pages, large octavo, and to cost the reasonable 
price of fourpence. Its flaming prospectus bore the motto, 
"Knowledge is power." With the object of enlisting sub- 
scribers, the young and ardent propagandist undertook a tour 
of the country between Bristol and Sheffield, preaching in 
most of the great towns, " as an hireless volunteer, in a blue 
coat and white waistcoat, that not a rag of the woman of 
Babylon might be seen on me." The description he has given 
of this, his Odyssey, shows us the young English Romanticist 



74 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

as he was then and as he continued to be — imprudent in 
worldly matters, enthusiastic in behalf now of this, now of that 
religious or political half-truth, yet with a humorous appre- 
ciation of his own and others' ridiculousness. 

" My campaign commenced at Birmingham ; and my 
first attack was on a rigid Calvinist, a tallow-chandler by 
trade. He was a tall, dingy man, in whom length was so 
predominant over breadth that he might almost have been 
borrowed for a foundry poker. O that face ! I have it 
before me at this moment. The lank, black, twine-like hair, 
pinguiniiescenty cut in a straight line along the black stubble of 
his thin gunpowder eyebrows, that looked like a scorched 
after-math from a last week's shaving. His coat collar 
behind in perfect unison, both of colour and lustre, with the 
coarse yet glib cordage that I suppose he called his hair, and 
which with a bend inward at the nape of the neck (the only 
approach to flexure in his whole figure) slunk in behind his 
waistcoat ; while the countenance, lank, dark, very hard, and 
with strong perpendicular furrows, gave me a dim notion of 
some one looking at me through a used gridiron, all soot, 
grease, and iron ! But he was one of the thorough-bred, a 
true lover of liberty, and (I was informed) had proved to the 
satisfaction of many, that Mr. Pitt was one of the horns of 
the second beast in the Revelation, thai spoke like a dragon.' 9 
For half-an-hour Coleridge employed all the resources of 
his eloquence — argued, described, promised, prophesied, 
beginning with the captivity of nations and ending with the 
millennium. " My taper man of lights listened with persever- 
ance and praiseworthy patience, though (as I was afterwards 
told on complaining of certain odours that were not altogether 
ambrosial) it was a melting-day with him. ' And what, sir,' 
he said, after a short pause, ' might the cost be ? ' ' Only 
fourpence, only fourpence, sir, each number, to be published 
on every eighth day.' ' That comes to a good deal of money 
at the end of the year. And how much did you say there 
was to be for the money ? ' « Thirty-two pages, sir I large 
octavo, closely printed.' « Thirty and two pages ? Bless 
me, why, except what I does in a family way on the Sabbath, 
that's more than I ever reads, sir ! all the year round. I am 



NATURALISTIC ROMANTICISM 75 

as great a one as any man in Brummagem, sir I for liberty 
and truth and all them sort of things, but as to this, no 
offence, sir, I must beg to be excused.'" 

Thus ended Coleridge's first attempt at recruiting for the 
war against the Holy Trinity. His second he made in Man- 
chester, where he tried to enlist a stately and opulent whole- 
sale dealer in cottons. This man measured him from top to 
toe, and asked if he had any bill or invoice of the thing. 
Coleridge presented him with the prospectus. He rapidly 
skimmed and hummed over the first side, and still more 
rapidly the second and concluding page, then most delibe- 
rately and significantly rubbed and smoothed one part against 
the other, put it in his pocket, turned his back with an " Over- 
run with these articles 1 " and retired into his counting-house. 

After these unsuccessful attempts, the young man gave 
up the plan of canvassing from house to house, but never- 
theless returned from this memorable tour with almost a 
thousand names on his list of subscribers. But, alas! the 
publication of the very first number was, as any one 
knowing Coleridge might have expected, delayed beyond 
the day announced for its appearance ; the second, which 
contained an essay against fast-days, lost him nearly five 
hundred subscribers at a blow ; and the two following 
numbers, which were full of attacks on French philosophy 
and morals, and directed against those " who pleaded to the 
poor and ignorant instead of pleading for them," made 
enemies of all his Jacobin and democratic patrons. Cole- 
ridge, who communicates all these details himself, does not 
seem to have any suspicion that he was only receiving a 
natural punishment for his indecision — an indecision which 
consisted in never being prepared to accept the conse- 
quences of his own theories. He was undecided in politics, 
undecided in religion. Writing, as an old man, of this time, 
he himself says : " My head was with Spinoza, though my 
whole heart remained with Paul and John ; " and he hastens 
to provide his readers with those convincing proofs of the 
existence of God and the Holy Trinity which he had not 
been capable of perceiving in his youth. 1 After the appear- 

1 See Biographic Literaria. 



76 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

ance of about a dozen numbers, The Watchman had to be 
given up, and Coleridge took to writing for the newspapers. 
He began by attacking Pitt's Government, but in course of 
time, his opinions tending ever more in a conservative direc- 
tion, he became its ardent supporter, and also, after the 
occupation of Switzerland by the French, an enemy of 
France. So hostile to that country were his articles in 
the Morning Post, that they even attracted the attention of 
Napoleon, apd Coleridge became the object of the 
First Consul's special enmity. He would probably have 
been arrested during his residence in Italy, if he had not 
received timely warning from the Prussian ambassador, 
Wilhelm von Humboldt, and, through an inferior official, 
from Napoleon's own uncle, Cardinal Fesch. 

The year 1797, in the course of which Coleridge became 
acquainted with Wordsworth, was, as regards his poetry, the 
most important in his life ; for it was in this year that he 
wrote his famous ballad, The Ancient Mariner, and Christabel, 
the fragment which marks a new era in English poetry. 

Christabel was planned as the first of a series of poetical 
romances, the remainder of which never came into being. 
It is, without doubt, the first English poem which is permeated 
by the genuine Romantic spirit ; and the new cadences, the 
new theme, the new style of versification, the novelty gene- 
rally, made a powerful impression on contemporary poets. 
The irregular and yet melodious metre appealed so strongly 
to Scott that he employed it in his first Romantic poem, 
The Lay of the Last Minstrel. He frankly confesses how 
much he owed to the beautiful and tantalising fragment, 
Christabel, which he, like the other poets of the period, made 
acquaintance with in manuscript ; for Coleridge read it aloud 
in social gatherings for twenty years before it saw the light 
as public property. Byron, too, heard it first on one of 
these occasions. Before hearing it he had, in one of his 
longer poems {The Siege of Corinth, xix.), written some lines 
which were not unlike some in Christabel. To these lines 
he, on a future occasion, appended a note in which he 
praises Coleridge's " wild and singularly original and beautiful 
poem." But we see from Moore's Life and Letters that there 



NATURALISTIC ROMANTICISM 77 

were critics who refused the meed of admiration accorded 
to Christabel by Scott and Byron, and still more freely by 
Wordsworth. Jeffrey and Moore himself consider it affected 
(Memoirs, ii. 101 ; iv. 48). Danish critics, thoroughly initiated 
into the mysteries of this style by Tieck and the brothers 
Schlegel, and by their own poet Ingemann, cannot possibly 
attach so much importance to this fragment. Its excessive 
nalvet6 and simplicity, the intentional childishness in style 
and tone, are to us what buns are to bakers' children. The 
chief merit of the poem, apart from its full-toned, sweet 
melody, lies in the peculiar power with which the nature 
of the wicked fairy is presented to us, the daemonic element, 
which had never been present in such force in English 
literature before. We must, however, remember that, 
though the first part of the poem was written in 1797, the 
second was written and the first revised in 1800 — that is to 
say, after Coleridge had travelled with Wordsworth in Ger- 
many, and there made acquaintance with contemporary 
German poetry, its medieval ground-work, and its latest 
tendency. 

Coleridge's one other poem of any length, The Ancient 
Mariner, which is even more artificially naive in style than 
Christabel, and is provided, in the manner of the medieval 
ballads retailed in the little shops in back streets, with a prose 
index of contents on the margin of the pages, is now the 
most popular of all his poems, although it was fiercely 
attacked on its first appearance. On a very unnatural intro- 
duction (three guests on their way to a wedding are stopped, 
and one of them is led to forget his destination, so eloquent 
is the ancient mariner — " and on the street, too," as Falstaff 
says) follows a story of all the horrors, ghostly and material, 
which ensue, because one of the sailors on a ship has 
been thoughtless enough to kill an albatross which had 
alighted on the rigging. The whole crew, with the exception 
of this one man, die, as a punishment for the act of inhospi- 
tality. Swinburne tells that, when the poem was new, the 
English critics were greatly occupied with the question 
whether its moral (that one should not shoot albatrosses) 
was not so preponderant that it destroyed the fantastic 



78 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

effect of the poem ; whilst others maintained that the defect 
of the poem was its want of a practical moral. Long after- 
wards the same matter formed the subject of a dispute 
between Freiligrath and Julian Schmidt. Modern criticism 
would willingly excuse the absence of any moral in the 
ballad if it could find a poetic central idea in it. 

A comparison may serve to show its chief shortcoming. 
In a collection of poems by the Austrian lyric poet, Moritz 
Hartmann, entitled Zeiilosen, there is to be found one which, 
although it does not profess to owe its origin to The Ancient 
Mariner, at first sight strikes the reader as being a direct 
imitation of it. The metrical form is the same, and in the 
theme there is a close resemblance. Der Cantao is the title 
of the poem. The Camao, which answers to Coleridge's 
albatross, is a bird which, in the Middle Ages, was kept in 
every house in the Pyrenean Peninsula, and treated with a 
reverence which had its source in a widespread superstition. 
It was believed, namely, that this bird could not thrive in a 
house on which rested the stain of a wife's infidelity ; it died 
if there was even the slightest spot on the honour of its 
master. Its beautiful cage generally hung in the entrance 
chamber. In Hartmann's poem the old, deranged man who 
answers to Coleridge's demented mariner, tells how he, as a 
page, was seized with a violent passion for his master's wife, 
and how, every time he rushed froni her presence, in despair 
at her coldness and displeasure, he was tortured as he left 
her apartments by the bird's song in honour of the chastity 
of the lady to whom it owed its life. The master of the 
house returns from the war bringing with him his friend, a 
handsome young minstrel and hero, whom the lady honours 
with her friendship, and who is, in consequence, soon hated 
by the jealous page. Quite beside himself, the young man 
denounces the lady and her friend to his master ; but the 
latter calmly answers that Camao is still alive, and at that 
moment singing in his mistress's honour. In his jealous, 
vindictive rage the page kills the bird ; Vasco kills his wife ; 
and thenceforward the criminal wanders, demented and 
restless, from country to country, seeking rest, but finding it 
nowhere. 



NATURALISTIC ROMANTICISM 79 

As regards virtuosity and originality in the matter of 
diction, Der Camao is not for a moment to be compared with 
The Ancient Mariner; but as regards the poetic central idea, 
the German poem is not only much superior to its English 
model, but is in itself a complete, satisfactory criticism of 
Coleridge's ballad and all the artificial English theories 
which it represents. In Der Camao the slaughter of the bird 
is a real human action performed with a real human motive ; 
the punishment is not a caprice, but a just and natural 
consequence of the misdeed. The misfortune which the 
killing of the bird brings to Vasco and his wife has a natural 
cause and effect connection with that deed, whilst the death 
of the whole ship's crew, as the result of the cruelty shown 
to the albatross, is folly. The comparison assists us to a 
clear understanding of the difference between a true poetical 
conception of the superstitious idea and a Romantic treat- 
ment of it. The story in both poems is founded on a super- 
stition. Hartmann has no desire to submit the superstition 
to the criticism of reason ; but he forces it upon no one ; 
the beauty of his poem is quite independent of the belief or 
disbelief of his reader in the miraculous susceptibility of the 
Camao. Romantic extravagance, on the other hand, pro- 
claims reverence for the marvellous and inexplicable to be 
the sum and substance of all wisdom and of all poetry. 

But though The Ancient Mariner may not take a high 
place when compared with poetry which has extricated 
itself from Romantic swaddling-bands, it stands high above 
most of the kindred productions of German Romanticism. In 
spite of all its Romantic fictitiousness, it breathes of the sea, the 
real, natural sea, whose changing moods and whose terrify- 
ing, menacing immensity it describes. The fresh breeze, the 
seething foam, the horrible fog, and the hot, copper-coloured 
evening sky with its blood-red sun — all these elements are 
nature's own ; and the misery of the men tossing helplessly 
on the ocean, the starvation, the burning thirst that drives 
them to suck the blood from their own arms, the pallid 
countenances, the terrible death-rattle, the horrible putre- 
faction — all these elements are realities, represented with 
English realistic force. 



y 



80 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

And it is a very English trait that Coleridge himself 
should have been thoroughly capable of seeing the weak 
points of such a poem as his own famous ballad. The 
national quality of humour assisted him to this independence 
of judgment. We have the following anecdote from his 
own pen. "An amateur performer in verse expressed a 
strong desire to be introduced to me, but hesitated in 
accepting my friend's immediate offer, on the score that 
he was, he must acknowledge, the author of a confounded 
severe epigram on my Ancient Mariner, which had given me 
great pain. I assured my friend that if the epigram was a 
good one, it would only increase my desire to become ac- 
quainted with the author, and begged to hear it recited, 
when, to my no less surprise than amusement, it proved to 
be one which I had myself inserted in the Morning Post." 
When Coleridge tells us, too, that he himself wrote three 
sonnets expressly for the purpose of exciting a good-natured 
laugh at the artificial simplicity and doleful egotism of the 
new poetical tendency, and that he took the elaborate and 
swelling language and imagery of these sonnets from his 
own poems, we cannot deny that his endeavours to keep 
free from the entanglement in theories which was the weak 
point in German Romanticism, bespeak rare intellectual 
superiority. 

It was, nevertheless, from Germany that Coleridge's 
intellect received its most invigorating and essential nourish- 
ment. He was the first Englishman who penetrated into 
the forest of German literature, which was as yet unexplored 
by foreigners ; he made his way into it about the same time 
as Madame de Stael, the pioneer of the Latin races. Whilst 
he was producing the famous poems just described, he 
began the study of German. Schiller and Kant attracted 
him first. In 1798 he and Wordsworth went to Germany 
on a literary voyage of discovery. In Hamburg they visited 
the patriarch Klopstock, who praised Burger to them, but 
spoke coldly and disparagingly of the rest of the younger 
literary men, and especially of Coleridge's idols, Kant and 
Schiller. The tatter's Die Rauber he professed himself unable 
to read. But he had plenty to say on the subject of The 



NATURALISTIC ROMANTICISM 81 

Messiah and his extreme satisfaction with the English trans- 
lations of it. While in Germany, Coleridge studied the 
Gothic language, and read the Meistersingers and Hans 
Sachs ; and on his return he published a translation of 
Schiller's Wallenstein, the play which Benjamin Constant 
was soon afterwards to adapt for the French stage. 

It was about this time that Coleridge settled in the Lake 
district, where Wordsworth and Southey had already taken 
up their abode — the district which gave its name to the 
literary school constituted, as their contemporaries chose to 
consider, by these three poets. The name, as a matter of 
fact, does not mean much more than if, in Denmark in 
1830, Hauch, Ingemann, Wilster, and Peder Hjort, had been 
dubbed Sorists. The English poets of the Lake School 
were quite as unlike each other in their gifts as were these 
Soro professors. But the criticism of the day always 
coupled Coleridge's name with Wordsworth's and Southey's 
because it was known that he was on intimate and friendly 
terms with them, because he never missed an opportunity 
of praising them, nor they of praising him, and because 
he and the other Lakists were crowned every three months 
with fresh laurels in the Quarterly Review, whilst the sinner 
Byron was chastised with fresh scorpions. Though Cole- 
ridge published almost nothing, Wordsworth and Southey 
were hardly ever under the cascade of criticism without 
some drops of it falling upon him. The circumstance that 
the Lake poets aimed (in much the same manner as the 
Pre-Raphaelite and the Nazarene painters) at poetic in- 
tensity, a childlike disposition and a childlike faith, pious 
blandness and priestly unction, exposed the man who could 
not but be regarded as the teacher of the school to much 
satire and derision. As a youth, in his poem Fire, Famine, 
and Slaughter, Coleridge had made all the horrors, one by 
one, reply to the question : Who bid you rage ? with the 
following refrain, applying to Pitt : — 

" Who bade you do't ? 

The same t the same 1 
Letters four do form his name. 
He let me loose, and cried Halloo 1 
To him alone the praise is due." 
VOL. IV. P 



82 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Now he was Mr. Pitt's journalistic henchman, and, like all 
the other members of the Lake School, a strict Tory, the 
enemy of liberal opinions in everything relating to church 
and state. What wonder that he was classed along with 
the others in the constant party attacks made by the Liberals ! 
And yet it would have been so easy and so natural to dis- 
tinguish him as a poet from all the others, and to pay him 
the honour which was due to his originality. The few 
poems which he wrote in the course of a comparatively long 
life are distinguished by the exquisite melodiousness of their 
language ; their harmonies are not only delicate and insinu- 
ating like Shelley's, but contrapuntally constructed and rich ; 
they have a peculiar, ponderous sweetness ; each line has 
the taste and weight of a drop of honey. In poems such as 
Love and Lewti, which are the two sweetest, and in an Oriental 
fantasy like Kubla Khan, which was inspired by a dream, 
we hear Coleridge flute and pipe and sing with all the chang- 
ing cadences of the most exquisite nightingale voice. It is 
Swinburne who makes the apt remark that, in the matter 
of harmonies, Shelley is, compared with Coleridge, what a 
lark is compared with a nightingale. 

But Coleridge's poetry is as unplastic as it is melodious, 
and as unimpassioned as it is mellifluous. It is of the 
fantastic Romantic order ; that is to say, it neither expresses 
strong, personally experienced emotions, nor reproduces 
what the author has observed in the surrounding world. 
In this last connection it is interesting to know that Cole- 
ridge's long tour in the south was altogether without results 
as far as his poetry was concerned. The only poem he 
brought home with him, the Hymn Before Sunrise in 
the Vale of Chamouni, a valley in which he never set foot, 
was composed with the assistance of the description of 
the locality given by the well-known Danish authoress, 
Friederike Brun. His historic sense was as defective as 
his sense of locality. He says himself : " Dear Sir Walter 
Scott and myself are exact, but harmonious opposites in 
this — that every old ruin, hill, river, or tree called up in 
his mind a host of historical or biographical associations 
. . , whereas for myself, I believe I should walk on the 



NATURALISTIC ROMANTICISM 83 

plain of Marathon without taking more interest in it than in 
any other plain of similar features. . . . Charles Lamb 
wrote an essay on a man who lived in past time : — I thought 
of adding another to it on one who lived not in time at all, 
past, present, or future — but beside or collaterally." 1 His 
poetry is, thence, in the literal sense of the word, visionary ; 
the poem which the best critics consider the finest, he com- 
posed in a dream. 

In his own life there was as little of will and plan as in 
a dream. Somewhat indolent by nature, he became more 
#n& more procrastinating as years went on ; and the result 
of his procrastination was an accumulation of difficulties 
which he had not energy and application enough to over- 
come. To relieve physical suffering he had recourse to 
opium, and soon became a confirmed opium-eater, thereby 
increasing his incapacity to carry out any plan. After a 
period of wandering, living first in one, then in another 
friend's house, and either writing for magazines or giving 
lectures on the history of literature, he decided that he was 
unfit to manage himself and his affairs, and from 18 16 
onwards he lived at Highgate in the house and under the 
control of a doctor named Gillman — separated from his 
own family, whom he left to the care of his friend and 
brother-in-law, Southey. 

On the indulgence in opium followed remorse and self- 
reproach and increasingly orthodox piety. Most of what 
Coleridge now wrote was written with the object of refuting 
the heresies of his youth and defending the doctrine of the 
Trinity and the Church of England against all attacks. 8 
Emerson, who paid him a visit, describes him as " old and 
preoccupied " ; enraged by the effrontery with which a hand- 
ful of Priestleians dared to attack the doctrine of the Trinity 
propounded by Paul and accepted unchallenged for cen- 
turies ; and falling in his talk into all manner of common- 
places. Eighteen years passed, spent in dreaming, talking, 
and composing edifying essays. His influence during this 

1 Specimens of the Table Talk of the Late Samuel T. Coleridge, ii. 225. 
» "On the Constitution of Church and State according to the Ideal of Each": 
Lay Sermons, 



84 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

period was due much less to his productive power than to 
the manner in which he incited to production. He stimu- 
lated and goaded others to the pitch of expressing themselves 
publicly. Residing close to London, and constantly visited, 
because of his conversational powers, by the best writers of 
the day — Charles Lamb, Wordsworth, Southey, Leigh Hunt, 
Hazlitt, Carlyle — he was a looker-on on life during the years 
when the great representatives of the opposite intellectual 
tendency to his, Shelley and Byron, were pouring forth their 
fiery denunciations of the order of society and state which he 
considered so excellent. Without will of his own, under 
control, and himself protected like a child, Coleridge became 
ever more and more the would-be protector of society, whilst 
the two great poets of liberty, banished from their homes 
and thrown entirely on their own resources, developed an 
independence unexampled in the history of literature, and, 
protected neither by themselves nor any one else, were 
shattered long before their time by the ardour of conflict. 
The right of personal investigation and personal liberty were 
as precious treasures to them as the Church of England was 
to Coleridge. 



VIII 

THE LAKE SCHOOL'S CONCEPTION OF LIBERTY 

Coleridge and the other members of the Lake School 
would never have dreamt of calling themselves anything but 
warm friends of liberty; the days were past when the 
reactionaries called themselves by another name. Coleridge 
wrote one of his most beautiful poems, the Ode to France, 
in the form of a hymn to liberty, to his constant love 
for which he calls clouds, waves, and forests to testify ; and 
Wordsworth, who dedicated two long series of his poems to 
liberty, regarded himself as her acknowledged champion. A 
cursory glance at the works of these poets might well leave 
us with the impression that they were as true lovers of liberty 
as Moore, or Shelley, or Byron. But the word liberty in 
their mouths meant something different from what it did in 
Moore's, or Shelley's, or Byron's. To understand this we 
must dissect the word by means of two simple questions : 
freedom, from what ? — liberty, to do what ? 

To these conservative poets freedom is a perfectly definite 
thing, a right which England has and the other countries of 
Europe have not — the right of a country to govern itself, un- 
tyrannised over by an autocratic ruler of foreign extraction. 
The country which has this privilege is free. By liberty, 
then, the men in question understood freedom from foreign 
political tyranny ; there is no thought of liberty of action in 
their conception at all. Look through Wordsworth's Sonnets 
Dedicated to Liberty, and see what it is they celebrate. It is 
the struggle of the different nations against Napoleon, who is 
described as a species of Antichrist. (Scott calls him " the 
Devil on his burning throne.") 

The poet mourns the conquest of Spain, Switzerland, 

Venice, the Tyrol, by the French ; he chants the praises 

83 



86 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

of Hofer, the undaunted, of brave Schill, and daring Tous- 
saint L'Ouverture, the men who ventured to face the fierce 
conquerors ; and he sings with quite as great admiration of 
the King of Sweden, who with romantically chivalrous folly 
threw down the gauntlet to Napoleon, and proclaimed his 
longing for the restoration of the Bourbons. (Ere long Victor 
Hugo and Lamartine, in their character of supporters of the 
Legitimist monarchy, followed suit in singing the praises of 
the Swedish king and his son, Prince Gustavus Vasa.) Hatred 
of Napoleon becomes aversion for France. In one of the 
sonnets (" Inland, within a hollow vale, I stood ") Wordsworth 
tells how the u barrier flood " between England and France 
for a moment seemed to him to have dwindled to the dimen- 
sions of a river, and how he shrank from the thought of 
"the frightful neighbourhood " ; in another he rejoices in the 
remembrance of the great men and great books England has 
produced, and remarks that France has brought forth " no 
single volume paramount ... no master spirit," that with 
her there is " equally a want of books and men." 

He always comes back to England. His sonnets are one 
long declaration of love to the country for which he feels 
" as a lover or a child," the country of which he writes : 
il Earth's best hopes are all with thee." He follows her through 
her long war, celebrating, like Southey, each of her victories ; 
and it is significant of his attitude that, appended to the 
Sonnets Dedicated to Liberty, we find the great, pompous 
thanksgiving ode for the battle of Waterloo. We of to-day 
ask what kind of liberty it was that Waterloo gained ; but we 
know full well that the group of poets whose heroes were the 
national heroes — Pitt, Nelson, and Wellington, and who sang 
the praises of the English constitution as being in itself 
liberty, and lauded England as the model nation, won a degree 
of favour with the majority of their countrymen to which 
their great poetic antagonists have not even yet attained. 
Wordsworth and his school considered the nation ideal as it 
was, whereas the others tried to compel it to turn its eyes 
towards an ideal, not only unattained, but as yet unrecog- 
nised ; the former flattered it, and were rewarded with 
laurels ; the latter educated and castigated it, and were 



LAKE SCHOOL'S CONCEPTION OF LIBERTY 87 

spurned by it. Scott was offered the post of Poet Laureate, 
and Southey and Wordsworth in turn occupied it ; but to 
this day the English nation has shown no public recognition 
of what it owes to Shelley and Byron. 1 And the reason is, 
that these men's conception of liberty was utterly different 
from that of the Lake School. To them it was not realised in 
a nation or a constitution — for it was no accomplished, finished 
thing ; neither was their idea of the struggle for liberty 
realised in a highly egoistic war against a revolutionary 
conqueror. They felt strongly what an absence of liberty, 
political as well as intellectual, religious as well as social, t 
there might be under a so-called free constitution. They 
had no inclination to write poems in honour of the glorious 
attainments of the human race, and more especially of their 
own countrymen ; for in the so-called land of freedom they 
felt a terrible, oppressive want of freedom — of liberty to think 
without consideration of recognised dogmas, to write without 
paying homage to public opinion, to act as it was natural 
to men of their character to act, without injury from the 
verdict of those who, because they had no particular charac- 
ter of their own, were the most clamorous and unmerciful 
condemners of the faults which accompanied independence, 
originality, and genius. They saw that in this "free" 
country the ruling caste canted and lied, extorted and plun- 
dered, curbed and constrained quite as much as did the 
one great autocrat with his absolute power — and without his 
excuse, the authority of intellect and of genius. 

To the poets of the Lake School, coercion was not coercion 
when it was English, tyranny was not tyranny when it was 
practised under a constitutional monarchy, hostility to enlighten- 
ment was not hostility to enlightenment when it was displayed 
by a Protestant church. The Radical poets called coercion 
coercion, even when it proceeded to action with the English 
flag flying and the arms of England as its policemen's badge ; 
they cherished towards monarchs generally, the objection of 
the Lake School poets to absolute monarchs ; they desired 

1 This year (1875) Disraeli, as Chairman of the Byron Memorial Committee, has 
started a subscription for the erection of a statue to Byron on some prominent 
site in London. 



88 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

to free the world not only from the dominion of the Roman 
Catholic priesthood, but from priestly tutelage of every de- 
scription. When they heard poets of the other school, who 
in the ardour of youth had been as progressive as themselves, 
extolling the Tory Government of England with the fervour 
which distinguishes renegades, they could not but regard 
them as enemies of liberty. Therefore it is that Shelley, 
in his sonnet to Wordsworth, writes : — 

" In honoured poverty thy voice did weave 
Songs consecrate to truth and liberty. 
Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve, 
Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be." 

Therefore it is that Byron is tempted again and again " to 
cut up Southey like a gourd." And therefore it is that the 
love of liberty of the Radical poets is a divine frenzy, a 
sacred fire, of which not a spark is to be found in the 
Platonic love of the Lake School. When Shelley sings to 
liberty : — 

" But keener thy gaze than the lightning's glare, 
And swifter thy step than the earthquake's tramp ; 
Thou deafenest the rage of the ocean ; thy stare 
Makes blind the volcanoes ; the sun's bright lamp 
To thine is a fen-fire damp ; " 

we feel that this liberty is not a thing which we can grasp 
with our hands, or confer as a gift in a constitution, or in- 
scribe among the articles of a state-church. It is the eternal 
cry of the human spirit, its never-ending requirement of 
itself; it is the spark of heavenly fire which Prometheus 
placed in the human heart when he formed it, and which 
it has been the work of the greatest among men to fan into 
the flame that is the source of all light and all warmth in 
those who feel that life would be dark as the grave and cold 
as stone without it. This liberty makes its appearance in 
each new century with a new name. In the Middle Ages it 
was persecuted and stamped out under the name of heresy ; 
in the sixteenth century it was championed and opposed 
under the name of the Reformation ; in the seventeenth it 
was sentenced to the stake as witchcraft and atheism ; in the 



LAKE SCHOOL'S CONCEPTION OF LIBERTY 89 

eighteenth it became first a philosophical gospel, and then, 
through the Revolution, a political power ; in the nineteenth 
it receives from the champions of the past the new nickname 
of Radicalism. 

What the poets of the Lake School extolled was a 
definite, actually existing sum of liberties — not liberty. What 
the revolutionary poets extolled was undoubtedly true 
liberty ; but their conception was so extremely ideal, that in 
practical matters they too often shot beyond the mark. In 
the weakening of all established government they saw only 
the weakening of bad government ; in the half-barbaric 
revolts of oppressed races they saw the dawn of perfect liberty. 
Shelley had so little knowledge of his fellow-men that he 
thought the great victory would be won if he could exter- 
minate kings and priests at a blow ; and Byron's life was 
almost over before he learned by experience how few re- 
publican virtues the European revolutionists leagued together 
in the name of liberty possessed. The poets of the Lake 
School were safeguarded against the generous delusions and 
overhastiness of the Radical poets ; but posterity has derived 
more pleasure and profit from the aberrations due to the 
love of liberty in the latter than from the carefully hedged in 
and limited Liberalism of the former. 



IX 

THE LAKE SCHOOL'S ORIENTAL ROMANTICISM 

This is the time to notice the man who was Byron's and 
Shelley's worst enemy and Coleridge's best friend, and who, 
inferior as his productions are to those of his friend, deserves 
also to have his name coupled with Coleridge's as a famous 
English Romanticist. 

Robert Southey, born in Bristol in 1774, was the son 
of a linen-draper there, and to the end of his life a man who 
produced the impression that he had been born in narrow 
circumstances, in a corner of the world with a narrow 
spiritual horizon. After studying a short time at Oxford, he, 
like the other poets of the Lake School, became infected by 
the spirit of the Revolution. In 1794 he wrote an extremely 
Jacobinical poem, Wat Tyler. About the same time he com- 
posed the following inscription for the room in which 
Martin, the regicide, had been confined : — 

" For thirty years secluded from mankind 
Here Martin lingered. Often have these walls 
Echo'd his footsteps, as with even tread 
He paced around his prison. Not to him 
Did Nature's fair varieties exist ; 
He never saw the sun's delightful beams, 
Save when through yon high bars he poured a sad 
And broken splendour. Dost thou ask his crime ? 
He had rebel? d against the Kin& and sat 
In judgment on him; for his ardent mind 
Shaped goodliest plans of happiness on earth, 
And peace and liberty. Wild dreams ! but such 
As Plato lovU . . ." 

The following rather clever parody was inserted by Mr. 
Canning in the Anti- Jacobin : — 



LAKE SCHOOL'S ORIENTAL ROMANTICISM 91 

"Inscription for the Door of the Cell in Newgate, where 
Mrs. Brownrigg, the 'Prentice-cide, was confined, previous 
to her Execution. 

" For one long term, or ere her trial came, 
Here Brownrigg lingered. Often have these cells 
Echo'd her blasphemies, as with shrill voice 
She scream'd for fresh geneva. Not to her 
Did the blithe fields of Tothill, or thy street, 
St. Giles, its fair varieties expand ; 
Till at the last in slow-drawn cart she went 
To execution. Dost thou ask her crime ? 
She whippd two female 'prentices to deaths 
And kid them in the coal-hole. For her mind 
Shaped strictest plans of discipline. Sage schemes 1 
Such as Lycurgus taught. . . 

After Southey, too, had given up his project of emigration 
and won the hand of his Miss Fricker, he settled in London, 
in 1797. From 1807 onwards the Government granted 
him an annual allowance of ^150, and after Pye's death 
he became Poet Laureate, with a salary of ^300. This 
post, which entailed the obligation to compose a poem on 
the occasion of every special event in the royal family, had 
first been offered by the Prince Regent to Scott, who asked 
his friend and patron, the Duke of Buccleuch, for advice in 
the matter. The Duke wrote : " Only think of being chanted 
and recitatived by a parcel of hoarse and squeaking choristers 
on a birthday, for the edification of the bishops, pages, maids 
of honour, and gentlemen-pensioners ! Oh horrible ! thrice 
horrible!" &c, &c. Scott declined the proffered honour, 
and suggested Southey, a loyal and needy poet, as a fit 
recipient. For the greater part of his life Southey was 
obliged to live by his pen, and consequently often wrote 
under compulsion. Industrious, economical, a model of all 
the domestic virtues, he amassed a capital of .£12,000. 
With him, as with the Germans, Romanticism, instead of 
precluding the bourgeois virtues, throve along with them. 
It had, after all, so little connection with real life. His 
respectable Philistinism did not forbid of his allowing his 
imagination to take the wildest Oriental flights. 

During the first, the liberal-minded, stage of Southey's 



92 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

career, we are conscious of a sympathetic ardour in his 
writing. He possessed both enthusiasm and courage. His 
epic, Joan of Arc, published in 1797, is a poem inspired by 
as fervent an admiration for the heroine of France as that 
displayed by Schiller five years later in his Jungfrau von 
Orleans. Southey's work is, like Schiller's, of an exactly 
opposite character to Voltaire's Pucelk, which, the English 
poet in his preface informs his readers, is a book he has 
11 never been guilty of looking into." In Joan of Arc Southey 
is not yet the Romanticist. Once or twice he projects his 
vision as far as his own day. In the Third Book he extols 
Madame Roland as "the martyred patriot," in the Tenth 
he refers to Lafayette's as "the name that Freedom still 
shall love." And in his representation of Jeanne's exploits 
we have not, as in Schiller, any reference to witchcraft. At 
a decisive moment, when the Maid is being questioned as to 
her beliefs, she (and through her, her poet) makes such a 
frank confession of her faith in nature that we feel satisfied 
that in Southey's case too, the Naturalism which dominates 
the English poetry of the day is the foundation upon which 
everything rests. 

" Woman," says a priest to Joan of Arc, — 

" Woman, thou seem'st to scorn 
The ordinances of our holy Church ; 
And, if I rightly understand thy words, 
Nature, thou sa/st, taught thee in solitude 
Thy feelings of religion, and that now 
Masses and absolution and the use 
Of the holy wafer, are to thee unknown. 
But how could Nature teach thee true religion, 
Deprived of these ? Nature doth lead to sin, 
But 'tis the priest alone can teach remorse, 
Can bid St. Peter ope the gates of Heaven, 
And from the penal fires of purgatory 
Set the soul free." 

The Maid replies : — 

" Fathers of the holy Church, 
If on these points abstruse a simple maid 
Like me should err, impute not you the crime 
To self-will'd reason, vaunting its own strength 



LAKE SCHOOL'S ORIENTAL ROMANTICISM 93 

Above eternal wisdom. True it is 

That for long time I have not heard the sound 

Of mass high-chaunted, nor with trembling lips 

Partook the holy wafer : yet the birds 

Who to the matin ray prelusive pouiM 

Their joyous song, methought did warble forth 

Sweeter thanksgiving to Religion's ear 

In their wild melody of happiness, 

Than ever rung along the high-arch'd roofs 

Of man : ... yet never from the bending vine 

Pluck'd I its ripen'd clusters thanklessly, 

Or of that God unmindful, who bestowed 

The bloodless banquet. Ye have told me, Sirs, 

That Nature only teaches man to sin ! 

If it be sin to seek the wounded lamb, 

To bind its wounds, and bathe them with my tears, 

This is what Nature taught 1 No, Fathers, no 1 

It is not Nature that doth lead to sin : 

Nature is all benevolence, all love, 

All beauty ! In the greenwood's quiet shade 

There is no vice that to the indignant cheek 

Bids the red current rush ; no misery there ; 

No wretched mother, who with pallid face 

And famine-fallen hangs o'er her hungry babes, 

With such a look, so wan, so woe-begone, 

As shall one day, with damning eloquence 

Against the oppressor plead 1 ..." 1 

In this little harangue the attentive reader is conscious, not 
only of the echo of the revolutionary cries on the other side 
of the Channel, repeated in the language of English nature- 
worship, but also of the young poet's want of ability to give 
his subject the proper local colouring or to impart to it the 
spirit of the age. France and the Middle Ages are to him 
here what the East and the world of legend were to become — 
a costume in which his English and Protestant ideas figure. 
Of one thing, however, there is no doubt, namely, that it 
required courage to sing the praises of the French national 
heroine at a moment when the animosity to France was so 
strong ; and the poem, in spite of its aridity both as regards 
feeling and colour, is a work which does honour to a young 
poet. But the brave spirit which elevated his talent was soon 
to disappear from his writings. 

1 Joan of Are, Book iii. 



94 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

The lower the flood of unselfish enthusiasm for the great 
tasks and dreams of humanity ebbed in Southey's soul, the 
stronger became the impulse to remedy the aridity by 
pouring in a stream of purely external Romanticism. He 
had by degrees attained to a certain mastery over the 
resources of language, had acquired the art of writing 
loosely constructed but melodious verse, expressive in 
spite of its vagueness and monotony. Employing this 
melodious, flexible metre in the representation of the 
superstitions of Arabia and the most fantastic dreams of 
the Oriental races, he now produced his two principal 
works, The Curse of Kehatna and Thalaba the Destroyer. The 
Oriental tendency is common to Romanticism in every 
country. Oehlenschlager, the Dane, displays it simul- 
taneously with Southey ; it reaches France a little later, 
when Victor Hugo writes Aly et Gulhyndi and Les Orientates. 
But in the case of the English poets, the colourless, 
Protestant life of their own country, with its severe, cold 
propriety, must have invested the East with a peculiarly 
attractive charm. It required an Irishman, however — 
Thomas Moore, a colourist with Celtic blood in his veins — 
to arrive at anything resembling an understanding of a 
race like the ancient Persians and of their legends, and to 
reproduce the nature of the East in a style loaded with 
jewels and barbaric ornaments. Lalla Rookh is no master- 
piece ; its personages and ideas are far too European and 
tame ; but Thalaba, a work which enjoyed a certain amount 
of celebrity in its day, is tame in comparison with Lalla 
Rookh, and as moral as an English sermon. It suffers from 
the sharp contrast between the gaudy tinsel of the scenery 
and the sober modesty of the feelings represented. We are 
transplanted into a world which is not less marvellous than 
that of the Thousand and One Nights, but a world in which, 
nevertheless, love of our fellow-men and faith in one God 
are perpetually inculcated. The hero's life is presided over 
by the most special providence. When the fit time has 
arrived for him to leave his foster-father's house, the flight 
of a swarm of Syrian grasshoppers, pursued by a flock of 
birds, is directed so as to pass above the house, A grass- 



LAKE SCHOOL'S ORIENTAL ROMANTICISM 95 

hopper which one of the birds drops from its bill bears on 
its forehead in minute letters the inscription : — 

" When the sun shall be darkened at noon, 
Son of Hodeirah, depart 1 " 

But even though the poet employs such miraculous 
machinery as this, he can no more refrain here than he 
did in Joan of Arc from safeguarding his reader against the 
erroneous religious ideas of the period and the country. All 
his chief characters are rationalists in so far as their Oriental 
religion is concerned, and do not fall far short of being 
good Protestants. When the swarm of grasshoppers comes, 
Thalaba's foster-father, Moath, says : — 

" Deemest thou 
The scent of water on some Syrian mosque 
Placed with priest mummery and fantastic rites 
Which fool the multitude, hath led them here 
From far Khorassan ? Allah who appoints 
Yon swarms to be a punishment of man, 
These also hath he doom'd to meet their way." 

A pure-bred Arabian could not well view things in a 
more rationalistic light than this. And we have the same 
sort of thing throughout. Southey piles up fantastic edifices, 
only to topple them over with the help of some Gospel text 
when he is tired of them, or thinks that his reader requires 
an admonition. 

Upon his finger Thalaba wears a ring which is a talisman 
against evil spirits. One day the evil spirit, Lobaba, who is 
determined to rob him of it, tries to draw it off his finger 
while he is asleep. But one of the good genii sends a 
wasp which stings Thalaba's finger close to the edge of the 
ring, making it impossible for the evil one to slip the ring 
over the swollen part. All Lobaba's plans are defeated in 
some such manner. At last the dread sorcerer, Mohareb, 
succeeds in ensnaring the youth. After Thalaba has defeated 
Mohareb repeatedly, the latter jeers at him because he defeats 
his enemies, not in open conflict, but with the aid of a talis- 
man. He barbs his jeers so successfully that at last Thalaba 
casts the ring into an abyss. Then the struggle begins anew. 



96 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

We expect that Thalaba, now defenceless against the super- 
natural power of his foes, will be overcome. Not at all ! 
He conquers. How, and why ? A voice from heaven 
informs us. The ring was not the true talisman : " The 
Talisman is Faith ! " Why, then, all the machinery ? 

The poet conducts us into subterranean caves, where 
human heads have to be thrown to the serpents who guard 
the entrances, where the taper can only be carried in the 
hewn-off hand of a hanged murderer, &c, &c. — in short, 
into a world which has no points of resemblance with Great 
Britain. But the whole is nothing but a ballet ; the scene 
suddenly changes ; the Oriental garments and trappings 
vanish, and the prompter reads aloud one of the Thirty-nine 
Articles. After this the ballet begins again. The scene 
represents a banquet, with costly dishes, with delicious wines 
in golden goblets — i€ ruby and amber, rosy as rising morn, 
or softer gleam of saffron like the sunny evening mist." But 
all these temptations are of no avail. Thalaba is far too good 
a Mussulman to allow himself to be led astray : — 

" But Thalaba took not the draught ; 
For rightly he knew had the Prophet forbidden 
That beverage, the mother of sins. 

Nor did the urgent hosts 
Proffer a second time the liquid fire, 
When in the youth's strong eye they saw 
No movable resolve. 11 

He might be a member of an English Total Abstinence 
society, this " Destroyer " — he will drink nothing but spring 
water ; and along with it he eats water melons. 

" Anon a troop of females form'd a dance, 
Their ancles bound with bracelet bells 
That made the modulating harmony. 
Transparent garments to the greedy eye 

Exposed their harlot limbs, 
Which moved, in every wanton gesture skill'd." 

But there is no cause for alarm. Thalaba is a determined 
adversary of the polygamy of his native country. Like a 



LAKE SCHOOL'S ORIENTAL ROMANTICISM 97 

young Englishman travelling abroad, he fortifies himself with 
the thought of the girl at home to whom he is engaged :-— 

" And Thalaba, he gazed, 
But in his heart he bore a talisman, 
Whose blessed alchemy 
To virtuous thoughts refined 
The loose suggestions of the scene impure. 
Oneiza's image swam before his sight, 
His own Arabian maid." 

Thalaba was born in England about the time when Aladdin 
saw the light in Denmark. (The Curse of Kehanta was pub- 
lished in 1 8 10, Aladdin in 1804, Thalaba in 1801.) What 
a cold-blooded animal he is compared with his Danish 
brother ! 

He attains the object of his desire ; he is married to his 
11 own Arabian maid." That everything may be thoroughly 
edifying and pious, the bride is made to die on the wedding 
night. To restore the Oriental character to the proceedings, 
Thalaba is compelled by his fate to kill an innocent young 
girl, named Laila. But that things may end in a satisfactorily 
Christian manner, his last recorded act is to forgive the 
sorcerer who has caused all his misfortunes — who proves to 
be the man he has been in search of all his life for the 
purpose of avenging the death of his father — and who is now 
unable to escape from him. In the course of a pompous 
funeral oration — 

u ' Old Man, I strike thee not 1 ' said Thalaba ; 
' The evil thou hast done to me and mine 
Brought its own bitter punishment.' M 

Thalaba! you speak like a book — but like one of the 
books we open only to close again. 

Let us close Thalaba, then, and give a parting glance at 
its author. Even Thackeray, who cannot say enough in 
praise of Southey as a man, is obliged, in writing of his chief 
works, to allow the possibility that, in the struggle between 
Thalaba the Destroyer and the destroyer Time, the latter will 
remain master of the field. It would be interesting to know 
how many living Englishmen have read the poem. To our 

VOL. iv. G 



98 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

own generation Southey's name is chiefly known, as it will 
be to posterity, by his hysteric assaults on Byron, and 
Byron's inimitable retorts. We have Southey's Visum of 
Judgment to thank for Byron's— and for this service we are 
ready to forgive him both the Curse of Kehama and Thalaba. 
We observe, however, in these poems, what is not to be 
observed in the works of the German Romanticists, namely, 
that the empty fantasticalness gives place to something better, 
when it is nature that is described. In the midst of all the 
Romantic confusion the Englishman's quiet realism asserts 
itself. Undeniably beautiful is the very first stanza of Thalaba , 
with its description of night in the desert, the sweet cadences 
of which the youthful Shelley imitated in his Queen Mab. 

" How beautiful is night ! 
A dewy freshness fills the silent air ; 
No mist obscures, nor cloud, nor speck, nor stain 
Breaks the serene of heaven. 
In full-orb'd glory yonder Moon divine 
Rolls through the dark blue depths. 
Beneath her steady ray 
The desert-circle spreads, 
Like the round ocean, girdled with the sky. 
How beautiful is night ! " 

This rivals the description of moonlight falling on the desert 
sands given in The Caravan Song in the fifth act of Aladdin. 
And many such pictures are to be found in Southey's poems. 
When he describes the timid antelope, hearing the wanderers' 
steps, and standing, doubtful where to turn in the dim light ; 
and the ostrich which, blindly hastening, meets them full ; 
and the deep, moveless mist which mantles all (Book iv., 
Canto 19), we are aware that this is not scenery in the 
German Romantic style, but a picture of the East which is 
faithful to nature, a picture which we owe to the English 
habit of observation. 

It would be difficult to find another man of the same 
doubtful political and literary reputation whose friends and 
contemporaries have borne such high testimony to his personal 
character as did Southey's. He was Wordsworth's trusted 
friend ; he was Coleridge's chief and most unwearied bene- 



LAKE SCHOOL'S ORIENTAL ROMANTICISM 99 

factor ; and, a fact which carries as much weight as any, 
Walter Savage Landor honoured him, in spite of their 
diametrically opposite political opinions, with a friendship 
which was only put an end to by death, and of which there 
are many reminiscences in Landor's Imaginary Conversations. 
On the 15th of May 1833, Emerson wrote: " I dined with 
Landor. He pestered me with Southey ; but who is 
Southey ? " So we see that Landor tried to make friends 
for his friend. And Thackeray, when in search of a typical 
English gentleman, did not hesitate to take as his model the 
poor, industrious, generously helpful Robert Southey. 

But no testimony in favour of Southey's personal char- 
acter can clear his literary reputation. It is stained by his 
eulogies of the English royal family and his denunciation of 
Byron. That he, like the other members of the Lake School, 
should assume a cold and hostile attitude to this new and 
alarming literary phenomenon was natural. But that he, 
himself a poet, should inflame the educated mob against 
another poet, an infinitely greater one than himself, by a 
mean accusation of immorality and irreligion, is a crime 
which history cannot forgive, and which it punishes by 
recording Southey's name only in an appendix to Byron's 
life. 

At the time of the publication of Don Juan, Southey 
wrote : — " I am well aware that the public are peculiarly 
intolerant of literary innovations. Would that this literary 
intolerance were under the influence of a saner judgment, 
and regarded the morals more than the manners of a 
composition ! Would that it were directed against these 
monstrous combinations of horrors and mockery, lewdness 
and impiety, with which English poetry has, in our days, 
first been polluted 1 For more than half a century English 
literature had been distinguished by its moral purity, the 
effect, and, in its turn, the cause of an improvement in 
national manners. A father might, without apprehension of 
evil, have put into the hands of his children any book which 
issued from the press, if it did not bear, either in its title- 
page or frontispiece, manifest signs that it was intended as 
furniture for the brothel. There was no danger in any Work 



ioo NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

which bore the name of a respectable publisher, or was to 
be procured at any respectable bookseller's. This was 
particularly the case with regard to our poetry. It is now 
no longer so ; and woe to those by whom the offence 
cometh ! The greater the talents of the offender, the greater 
is his guilt, and the more enduring will be his shame. 
Whether it be that the laws are in themselves unable to 
abate an evil of this magnitude, or whether it be that they 
are remissly administered, and with such injustice that the 
celebrity of an offender serves as a privilege whereby he 
obtains impunity, individuals are bound to consider that 
such pernicious works would neither be published nor 
written if they were discouraged as they might, and ought 
to be, by public feeling ; every person, therefore, who pur- 
chases such books or admits them into his house promotes 
the mischief, and thereby, as far as in him lies, becomes 
an aider and abettor of the crime. 

"The publication of a lascivious book is one of the 
worst offences which can be committed against the well- 
being of society. It is a sin, to the consequences of which 
no limits can be assigned, and those consequences no after- 
repentance in the writer can counteract. Whatever remorse 
of conscience he may feel when his hour comes (and come 
it must !) will be of no avail. The poignancy of a death- 
bed repentance cannot cancel one copy of the thousands 
which are sent abroad. . . . Men of diseased hearts and 
depraved imaginations, who, forming a system of opinions 
to suit their own unhappy course of conduct, have rebelled 
against the holiest ordinances of human society, and hate 
that revealed religion which, with all their efforts and 
bravadoes, they are unable entirely to disbelieve, labour 
to make others as miserable as themselves by infecting 
them with a moral virus that eats into the soul ! The 
school which they have set up may properly be called the 
Satanic school ; for though their productions breathe the 
spirit of Belial in their lascivious parts, and the spirit of 
Moloch in those loathsome images of atrocities and horror 
which they delight to represent, they are more especially 
characterised by a Satanic spirit of pride and audacious 



LAKE SCHOOL'S ORIENTAL ROMANTICISM 101 

impiety, which still betrays the wretched feeling of hope- 
lessness wherewith it is allied." 

It was necessary to give this long specimen of Southey's 
Biblical eloquence, because it is so typical of him and of 
men of his description ; besides, every passionate outbreak 
of a strong party-spirit possesses historical interest. But 
Nemesis was not asleep. In 1821, the same year in which 
Southey discharged this volley of abuse, an unauthorised 
edition of his own old revolutionary work, Wat Tyler, was 
brought out by a bookseller who thought it might be a 
profitable speculation. Southey went to law, hoping to have 
the edition suppressed and the publisher punished. But 
Nemesis struck again, harder than before. Lord Eldon 
discharged the appeal, on the ground that it was illegal to 
grant any author right of property in works calculated to do 
injury to public morality ! It was in this same year that 
Southey, on the occasion of the death of the old, deranged 
King, George III., wrote his long, dull Vision 0/ Judgment, a 
poem in hexameters, which it is interesting (not only because 
of the resemblance in subject, but also because of the 
employment of the supernatural element in both) to com- 
pare with Victor Hugo's loyal poem, La Vision. Southey 
characteristically apotheosised poor old George III. on the 
ground of his possessing the virtues which were the only 
ones the poet himself understood — and, indeed, the only 
ones*George did possess— the domestic and bourgeois virtues ; 
he was a faithful husband, a kind father, &c, qualities which 
no more make a man a good king than they make him a 
good poet. Byron could stand no more. The insulted 
Apollo rose in his wrath, seized the wretched Marsyas by the 
ear, and Hayed him alive with merciless satire in his Vision of 
Judgment. 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM 

Let us turn from Southey to a better man, to the author 
who, building on the groundwork of national character and 
history, originated the distinctively British type of Romanti- 
cism. This man did not, like his contemporaries of the 
Lake School, require to play the renegade in order to 
become conservative in religion and politics ; he was con- 
servative from his earliest youth, but without animosity to 
men of the opposite tendency. Pure-minded and gentle by 
nature, of a noble, resolute character, richly endowed with 
the creative gift, he for twenty years provided all the coun- 
tries of Europe with wholesome, entertaining literature ; and 
so original was his conception of race-character and history, 
that his influence in every civilised country upon the writing 
of history was not less great than his influence on fiction. 

Walter Scott, the ninth child of a family li of gentle 
blood," was born in Edinburgh on the 15th of August 1771. 
His father, a lawyer by profession, resembled Goethe's 
father in his severe sense of order ; the old merchant in Rob 
Roy is said to be a portrait of him. Ardent loyalty, display- 
ing itself in devotion, first to the Stuarts, then to the house 
of Hanover, was one hereditary quality in the family ; and 
orthodox piety was another. In his earliest infancy Walter 
was healthy and strong, but in his second year he suddenly 
became lame in the right leg. The sweet temper with which 
throughout life he bore this physical infirmity, presents a 
remarkable contrast to the resentful impatience which his 
great English rival displayed with regard to a similar afflic- 
tion. The boy grew up an ardent Jacobite and a lover of 
the old songs and ballads which tell of the Scottish wars and 
raids, Highland and Lowland. When he was little more 




SIR WALTER SCOTT 



'■:%) 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM 103 

than an infant, he could repeat most of that ballad of Hardi- 
canute with which in 1815 he drew tears from Byron's 
eyes. Anything of the nature of a story, especially if it 
was in rhyme, he learned with ease, but — a fact significant 
of the character of his future productions — dates and general 
principles were things which he assimilated with difficulty. 
The little lame boy, who rode about on a pony not much 
bigger than a Newfoundland dog, was an admirer of Percy's 
collection of old poems and fragments ; and, what is more 
remarkable, himself collected old ballads and songs, as other 
children collect coins or seals. At the age of ten he had 
several volumes of them ; and he continued to be a ballad- 
hunter all his life. Keen observation of his surroundings 
was another thing that developed early in Scott ; he had an 
eye for every ruin, every monument of antiquity, every 
curious old stone ; but he had not Wordsworth's intensity 
of regard for nature as simply nature ; it was its historical 
and poetic interest that attracted him. A group of old trees 
which had grown together was not in itself capable of arousing 
in him the devotional spirit which it did in Wordsworth ; 
but if he was told : Under this tree Charles II. rested ; or : 
That tree was planted by Mary Queen of Scots — he broke a 
twig to keep in memory of his visit to the place, and never 
forgot these trees. 

At the age of fifteen he made acquaintance with the 
picturesque Scottish Highlands, which were ere long to be of 
such importance to him, as providing his fictitious characters 
with a background of scenery as yet totally unknown to 
Europe. From the moment when he became conscious of 
his poetic calling, he studied nature in the manner of the 
painter who takes sketches. Before describing any district 
he took a special journey there, made a minute record of 
the appearance of the hills, of the lie and shape of the 
woods, even of the nature and outlines of the clouds at a 
given moment. He actually noted single flowers and bushes 
by the road-side or at the entrance to a cave. Though he 
had, in common with the Romanticists of Germany and 
Denmark, the poetic eye for nature, this did not stand 
in the way of vigorous, exact realism in description. 



104 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Whilst Oehlenschlager long contented himself with "speed- 
well" and roses, Scott, as he himself said, knew hill, 
brook, dell, rock, and stone, and the whole flora of his 
country. 

Before the young man's true vocation was revealed to 
him, he had made of himself a reliable, industrious lawyer, 
who engrossed his legal documents in the typical law hand in 
which he was afterwards to write so many famous books. 
In spite of his lameness he was healthy, active, and strong, 
and so well-trained in manly exercises that he was able to 
defend himself with his stick for a whole hour against three 
men who attacked him one day on a lonely road. It is of 
interest, in the case of such a man, to note the fact that 
this perfect health was not accompanied by any correspond- 
ing perfection of the sensual organs. Scott had hardly any 
sense of smell, and his Homeric appetite was the opposite of 
dainty ; he never learned to distinguish good wine from bad, 
or well-cooked from badly-cooked food — in both of these 
points forming the antipodes of his younger contemporary, 
Keats. His feelings towards the other sex were so cold that 
his companions were always teasing him on the subject. 
Nevertheless he had, in his youth, a romantic attachment to 
a lady who chose another mate. Scott controlled his feelings 
so perfectly that no one suspected this attachment. He 
soon recovered from his disappointment, and, at the age of 
twenty-six, with a chaste, tranquil youth behind him, married 
Miss Carpenter, a lady of French Protestant family, whose 
father had died at the time of the Revolution. Most of the 
winter of 1796-97, during which an invasion of Scot- 
land by the French was expected, he spent in assisting to 
raise regiments of volunteers. In his enthusiasm he himself 
undertook the duties of quartermaster, paymaster, and 
secretary of one of these regiments. 

His first translations from the German have already 
been noticed. He had long been a living repertory of songs, 
ballads, and tales ; in 1 803 he published, under the title of 
Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a collection of ballads, which 
he dedicated to his native land, the " dearest half of Albion." 
Part Third of this book, Modern Imitations, contains poems 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM 105 

by Scott himself. 1 In one of the criticisms of the day 
occurred the prophetic remark, that the book " contained the 
elements of a hundred historical romances." 

With all his loyalty to the English royal family, Scott 
never felt himself anything but the thoroughbred Scotchman; 
indeed, there can be no doubt that what lies at the very root 
of his originality is his Scottish character. His strong 
interest in the poetry of history is a Scottish interest. One 
of the most pronounced characteristics of Scotchmen in 
every age has been an intense spirit of nationality. The 
phrase Perfervidum ingenium Scotorum, used centuries ago on 
the Continent to express the idea of the Scottish character 
then universally current, had originally no other meaning 
than this. If we for a moment overlook the many internal 
dissensions, which do not really undermine the feeling of 
community, we feel how difficult it would be to match in 
any other country the solidarity of this small nation 
placed on the frontier of one so much larger and more 
powerful, which speaks the same language. The Englishman, 
too, has an intense spirit of nationality, but it is much less 
salient and active; it is purely of a corroborative nature— 
corroboration of the claim advanced by his country to the 
possession of many and various attributes. The Scotchman's 
spirit of nationality is continuously active, constantly on the 
alert, because it is essentially of a negative character. 
When the Englishman says: I am an Englishman — he 
means exactly what he says ; but when the Scotchman says 
or thinks : I am a Scotchman — it is tantamount to : I am 
not an Englishman. 2 

To understand this feeling properly, we must remember 
the smallness of the nation in comparison with its great 
neighbour. When we learn that in the year 1 707 the entire 
population of Scotland did not exceed a million, we under- 
stand what concord, what determination, what defensive 
pugnacity, were imperative in the less numerous race if its 
individuality was not to be flooded out or stamped out by 

1 In the same year the Danish poet Oehlenschlager made his first appearance 
before the public, also with a collection of remodelled ballads. {Digte, 1803). 
1 Masson : Scottish Influence in Brititk Literature 



106 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

the other. Thus it came about that bleak and rugged Scot- 
land, as compared with verdant, fertile England, was the 
object of a very special love and admiration ; its hills, its 
moors, its mists, inspired an almost martial patriotism. And 
it is therefore not surprising that, at the period when the 
spirit of nationality was breaking forth into poetry all over 
Europe, this country should produce a great descriptive, 
great narrative, poet — that it should be Scotland which brings 
forth the first and the most vigorous fruits of historical, 
ethnological Romanticism. What more natural than that an 
author in such a country as Scotland should be deeply 
interested in the peculiar customs of the Highlanders, and 
take pleasure in describing them in their picturesque garb ! 
What more natural than that the man whose very name 
seemed to stamp him as a personification of his country, 
should endeavour, by recalling its great historical achieve- 
ments in the past, to efface, as it were, the impression of its 
smallness and present insignificance ! 

Scottish national feeling was, then, in the first instance, 
distinguished by its solidarity ; the subordinate nation felt 
itself more one than the greater nation ; there were fewer 
conflicting interests at work within it. Scott frequently de- 
scribes this strong feeling of kinship among his countrymen 
— nowhere more beautifully than in the Heart of Midlothian, 
the poor peasant heroine of which is encouraged by it to 
apply for help to the Duke of Argyle almost as if he were 
a relative. But Scottish national feeling possessed another 
distinguishing feature ; being, in its character of attachment 
to an ancient, once entirely independent, state, itself a 
tradition, it was related to every other old tradition. This 
explains Scott's exaggerated reverence for royalty, its em- 
blems and appurtenances. When he was a member of 
the Commission entrusted to institute a search after the 
ancient regalia of Scotland, the discovery of it filled him 
with such reverential emotion that, when one of the other 
Commissioners proposed to try the crown on a young lady's 
head, he could not help shouting : " By God, no 1 " 

The first great feeling of separate nationalism brought 
in its train a whole host of new separative feelings. If 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM 107 

there were not many nations that rivalled the Scotch in the 
way they held together as a people, there were still fewer 
that could show such inward division into parties and camps. 
The individual's feeling of his public duty did not begin with 
the nation, but with the tribe, the clan, nay, the family. 

Hence we find Scott, the true Scotchman, showing 
preference, as a ballad-writer, for the legends which treat of 
the exploits of his own ancestors or kin, and in his private 
life exhibiting strong family feeling. He was a model son 
and husband ; he was, as his letters to his eldest son show, 
a devoted father ; in the education of his children he 
neglected neither body nor soul — though his chief require- 
ments of them seem to have been the ancient Persian ones, 
that they should ride well and speak the truth ; but his con- 
ception even of these relations was not modern. In his 
private life as in his poetry, the family was more to him than 
the individual. He had a brother, Daniel by name, who fell 
into bad habits, and, though he never did anything actually 
dishonourable, was a disgrace to the family. Scott procured 
a small appointment in the West Indies for this brother, but 
in his correspondence about him never called him anything 
but "relation," and also required of him that he should 
never divulge the nearness of the relationship. He refused 
to see Daniel when the latter returned to Scotland, never 
mentioned his name, and would neither attend his funeral 
nor wear mourning for him. Such behaviour as this shows 
the bad side of the society-preserving virtues. It is not 
surprising that the man who, with all his tender-heartedness, 
could sacrifice so much on the altar of " family," was unable 
to become the poet of personality, and was stamped as of 
the past the moment Byron appeared. 

In 1802 the Edinburgh Review was founded. Scott was 
a contributor to it from the beginning. Its editor was his 
fellow-countryman, Jeffrey, a man whose critical pronounce- 
ments were regarded as of the utmost importance by the 
authors of the day, though his only gift as a critic was a kind 
of untrained, straightforward common-sense. Scott's con- 
tributions ceased in 1809, when, dissatisfied with the liberal- 
minded attitude assumed by the Edinburgh Review in the 



108 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Catholic question, and annoyed by Jeffrey's disparaging 
notice of Marntion, he founded the Quarterly Review. 

Scott's first narrative poem, The Lay of the East Minstrel, 
appeared in 1805. It was a remarkable success. The 
reading public rejoiced at this return to nature and to 
national poetry. Pitt expressed the opinion that in several 
passages Scott had succeeded in producing the effect of a 
fine painting, and his opponent Fox was for once of the 
same opinion with him. Scott's personal amiability as 
Sheriff of Selkirkshire had, ere this, made him such a 
favourite that, as Wordsworth wrote in 1803, his name 
acted as an open sesame throughout the Border country ; 
now he became equally beloved as a poet. In a very short 
time 30,000 copies of his work were sold. In it he introduced 
his readers, with something approaching historical accuracy, to 
the Scotland of the sixteenth century. The acceptance with 
which his descriptions of the Border customs were received, 
suggested the idea of writing something of the same kind 
in prose, an idea which in its embodiment received the 
name of Waverley. In the meantime interest had been 
aroused in the Middle Ages, chivalry, feudal conditions, and 
Scottish national characteristics generally. English tourists 
began to make romantic pilgrimages to the ruins of the old 
castles, and to the battle-field of Killiecrankie, where their 
countrymen had been defeated by the bare-legged, tartan- 
clad monsters. 

Until this time Scott had been in the habit of writing in 
the evening, and far on into the night ; but after he devoted 
himself entirely to authorship, the early morning became 
his working time. He rose before five, went first to the 
stables to visit his horses and favourite dogs and other 
domestic animals, then seated himself at his desk and wrote 
so easily and fast that by the time the family assembled for 
breakfast, between nine and ten, he had, to use his own words, 
" broken the neck of the day's work." He left his study at 
twelve, and spent the rest of the day with his family and his 
guests. Scott's works were, thus, written in the fresh morning 
hours, whilst Byron, characteristically enough, wrote his at 
night. And we seem, even when the two poets are likest 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM 109 

each other, to feel the influence of the bright, and the influ- 
ence of the dark, hour of conception. 

It is in the poem which he began in November 1806, 
Marmion, a Tale of Flodden Field, that Scott is most like Byron. 
As far as the plot is concerned, this work is quite in Scott's 
usual style ; the scene is laid in sixteenth-century Scotland, 
and it is the life of the castle and the court that is described. 
But the hero's character makes him an unmistakable fore- 
runner of the Byronic heroes, and the whole poem is written 
in the easy-flowing, but somewhat monotonous, four-footed 
iambics which Byron employed in most of his poetical 
narratives. Marmion is a proud and brave, but also wicked 
knight. A young, beautiful nun, Constance of Beverley, 
whom he has abducted, follows him everywhere, disguised as 
a page ; but he grows tired of her, and is determined to com- 
pel a young girl of high birth to marry him, though he knows 
that she loves another. In her jealous despair, Constance 
makes an attempt on Marmion's life ; and he, indifferent and 
cruel, gives her up to the convent to suffer punishment as a 
runaway nun. The abbess pronounces sentence ; and, in a 
Romantic scene of horror of the kind which Byron painted 
frequently, and with much less consideration for his readers' 
nerves, we see Constance immured alive in an underground 
vault. 

There is not much psychology in Scotf s poem. The 
gorgeousness of the knight's armour, the gloom of the con- 
vent crypt, the architecture of the old castle, are of more 
importance to him than complicated emotions. Nevertheless 
he has given us in Marmion something very like a first sketch 
of The Giaour and of Lara. The Giaour's mistress suffers a 
terrible death ; Lara's follows him everywhere, in the 
disguise of a page ; and the scene in Marmion, in which the 
hero is publicly put to shame, has a certain resemblance to 
the scene in which Lara's past is brought to mind. Is there 
not something almost Byronic in the lines ? — 

" Marmion, whose steady heart and eye 
Ne'er changed in worst extremity ; 
Marmion, whose soul could scantly brook, 
Even from his king, a haughty look ; 



no NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Whose accent of command controlled, 
In camps, the boldest of the bold — 
Thought, look, and utterance failed him now, 
Fallen was his glance, and flushed his brow ; 

For either in the tone, 
Or something in the Palmer's look, 
So full upon his conscience strook 

That answer he found none." 

And the lines which describe his pangs of conscience :— 

" High minds, of native pride and force, 
Most deeply feel thy pangs, Remorse ! 
Fear for their scourge mean villains have, 
Thou art the torturer of the brave ! n 

do they not seem to foreshadow the famous passage in The 
Giaour ? — 

" The mind that broods o'er guilty woes, 
Is like the scorpion girt by fire ; 

The sting she nourished for her foes, 
Whose venom never yet was vain, 
Gives but one pang and cures all pain, 
And darts into her desperate brain." 

There is not merely a certain similarity between Marmion's 
and Lara's position and character ; they also die in the same 
manner — fall on the battle-field, unyielding and ungodly to 
the last moment of their lives. 

But this is all the resemblance between them ; and it is 
just sufficient to throw Byron's distinguishing characteristics 
into relief. To Scott, Marmion's personality is not the 
principal matter ; he makes use of it for the purpose of 
grouping round it figures and incidents illustrative of his 
country's past ; he requires the vices of his hero to set his 
simple tale going, but he is not the least absorbed in them, 
and describes them quite impersonally. When Byron, on 
the other hand, describes his earliest criminal heroes, his main 
object is to arouse interest in them. Their countenances 
attract the attention and interest of every one that sees them, 
and suggest pride, guilt, hatred, and defiance ; never once 
in their lives are they, like Marmion, unable to look their 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM in 

accusers in the face ; they live the life of the fabulous 
scorpion, " around it flame, within it death." Without hope 
in heaven, without solace upon earth, their hearts writhe 
in haughty agony until they cease to beat. Marmion was a 
stony-hearted, selfish knight, but his last thought and his 
last words were given to England ; he is part of a greater 
whole than his own egoistic life. It is quite different with 
Byron's earliest heroes. They live entirely in their own 
inner life, which forms, as it were, a complete and separate 
world in itself ; and the poet has been careful to allow 
the reader to catch sight of a similar dark, complete, and 
separate world in his, Byron's, soul. We catch a glimpse of 
his own Ego behind the fictitious one ; we are conscious of a 
heart that has suffered, and that seeks relief in veiled con- 
fessions and mysterious outbursts: the manner of presentation 
is, in short, personal in the highest degree ; and this means a 
revolution in English poetical art. 

The success of Scott's genuinely epic poem was not due 
to its hero, but to its events, and especially to the battle scenes " 
in the last canto, which enthusiastic critics declared to be 
the finest out of Homer. And if the poem was well adapted 
to excite the admiration of Scott's sedate countrymen, it 
was not less adapted to please the court. Byron was right 
when he said to the Prince Regent that Scott struck him as 
being u more particularly the poet of Princes, as they never 
appeared more fascinating than in Marmion and The Lady of 
the Lake" It is even probable that there are in Marmion 
direct allusions to the Prince Regent and his wife. The 
former can hardly have read unmoved the description of 
King James in his gorgeous court dress : — 

u For royal was his garb and mien, 
His cloak of crimson velvet piled, 
Trimmed with the fur of marten wild ; 
His vest of changeful satin sheen, 
The dazzled eye beguiled" 

— Marmion) v. 8. 

And the unfortunate, disgraced Princess of Wales, whose 
personal acquaintance Scott made when he was lionised in 
London for the first time, in 1 806, and to whose party he, 



U2 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

as a Tory, belonged, may well have applied to her own case 
the poem's description of the forsaken Queen Margaret, who 
led such a lonely life whilst the chivalrous, dissolute monarch 
spent his time with his mistresses. 

Begun in 1806, Marmion was published in 1808, and 
when, in the following year, Scott for the second time visited 
London, he met with a reception that would have turned 
any other man's head. He played his part of lion with a 
good-nature and humour rare in a man who is the hero of 
the moment in a great metropolis. We read that once, 
after he had been entertaining a large company with his 
stories and quaint humour, when most of the guests had 
gone, leaving him with only a few intimate friends, he 
laughed at himself and quoted : " I know that I one Snug 
the joiner am — no lion fell." And so modest was he that, 
when the conversation one day turned on himself in 
connection with Burns, he emphatically declared himself 
unworthy to be named on the same day as that great poet. 

But if Scott was a tame, gentle lion, he was a remarkably 
fierce Tory. The special purpose of his journey to London 
was the enlistment of contributors to the Quarterly Review. 
He desired that this periodical should be conducted on 
strictly Conservative principles, and he was especially firm on 
the subject of Catholic Emancipation. His theory was that 
if a particular sect of religionists are ipse f ado connected with 
foreign politics and placed under the spiritual direction of a 
class of priests of unrivalled dexterity and activity, the state 
ought to be excused from entrusting them with confidential 
posts. " If a gentleman chooses to walk about with a couple 
of pounds of gunpowder in his pocket, if I give him the 
shelter of my roof, I may at least be permitted to exclude 
him from the seat next the fire." Scott continued all his life 
to be of this opinion. Only a few years before his death, he 
said to his son-in-law : " I hold Popery to be such a mean 
and depraving superstition, that I am not sure I could have 
found myself liberal enough for voting the repeal of the 
penal laws as they existed before 1780. But now that you 
have taken the plaster off the old lady of Babylon's mouth, 
and given her free respiration, I cannot see the sense of 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM 113 

keeping up the irritation about the claim to sit in Parlia- 
ment." We understand in what need the English public 
stood of poets like Moore, like Byron and Shelley, when we 
hear a man of Scott's noble nature and culture express 
himself with such shameful and cruel narrow-mindedness. 

In 18 10 appeared the The Lady of the Lake, a work 
which still further increased its author's popularity. The 
fresh breezes from the woods and hills which blow through 
this beautiful poem, its gentle ardour, its genuine feeling, 
which never becomes wild passion, its story, the effect of 
which is not, as so often with Wordsworth, destroyed by 
the introduction of charitable sentiments and religious ex- 
hortations — all this captivated the reading public. As a 
proof of the interest taken in the book, it may be mentioned 
that the receipts of the post-houses nearest the district where 
its scene is laid were doubled. To find a parallel incident 
we must again turn to the pages which tell the story of 
Scotf s life. When Guy Mannering, of which 6000 copies 
were sold in two days, came out, it was reported that Scott 
had called Dandie Dinmont's two dogs, Pepper and Mustard, 
after two actually existing terriers, to which a Liddesdale 
farmer had given these odd names. This man, whose name 
was Davidson, and who was not really portrayed in the novel 
at all, became so famous that people took long journeys to 
see him ; a lady of rank, who desired to possess a couple 
of dogs of the famous breed, but who did not know the 
farmer's name, addressed her letter to " Dandie Dinmont," 
and it reached its proper destination. 

The Lady of the Lake met with an almost equally cordial 
reception. We read that on the day when it reached Sir Adam 
Fergusson, a Scottish captain serving in Portugal, he was 
posted with his company on a point of ground exposed to 
the enemy's artillery. The men were ordered to lie pro- 
strate on the ground, and while they kept that attitude, the 
captain, kneeling at their head, read aloud the description of 
the battle in Canto vi., and the listening soldiers only inter- 
rupted him by a joyous huzza whenever the French shot 
struck the bank close above them. 

What the modern and foreign reader of this poem finds 

VOL. IV, H 



H4 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

in it now is, in the first place, strong national feeling ; the 
memories of ancient days, of feudal customs, of Scottish 
royalty, of the clan's fidelity to its chief, are chanted in 
lucid, vivid, simple verse. Along with this, he finds descrip- 
tions of nature with the dew as fresh on them as on Christian 
Winther's. What he does not find is any attempt at psycho- 
logical character portrayal. There is an old bard, Allan by 
name, and another Romantic old character, half Druid, half 
prophet, Brian by name ; there are Romantic dreams which 
come true, and prophecies which are fulfilled. But these 
personages and incidents have their place in the poem because 
they belong to the period and the people, not because they are 
mysterious. There is not a trace to be found of the Romantic 
belief in horrors. For, much as Scott enjoyed hearing or 
writing anything of the nature of a ghost story, he was, unlike 
the German Romanticists, totally unimpressionable as regarded 
the mysteriously horrible. He tells somewhere that, having 
arrived one evening at a country inn, he was informed that 
there was no bed for him. " No place to lie down at all ? " 
said he. " No," said the people of the house, " none, 
except a room in which there is a corpse lying." " Well," 
said he, " did the person die of any contagious disorder ? " 
il Oh no ; not at all," said they. " Well, then/' continued he, 
" let me have the other bed." " So," said Sir Walter, " I laid 
me down, and never had a better night's sleep in my life." 

There is no want of freshness in the Romantic flavour of 
The Lady of the Lake; what really takes away from its 
attractiveness for us, nowadays, is the theatricalness of its 
representation of manners and customs. Scott has not 
succeeded in steering quite clear of this most perilous of 
reefs for the Romantic epic, the reef on which Southey suffered 
shipwreck. Take, for example, the description of the call of 
the clan to arms by the youth bearing the blood-stained 
s cross. Everything is pushed to an extreme to produce the 
theatrical effect. The young man comes first to a house 
where funeral rites are being held, and forces the son to 
leave his father's corpse and his weeping mother ; then he 
meets a wedding procession, and takes the bridegroom 
away from the bride. We seem to see the procession 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM 115 

crossing the stage, and to feel the impressive effect pro- 
duced by the sudden appearance of the cross-bearer from 
behind the scenes. Things happen just as they do in the 
theatre: a loud whistle, and empty valleys are filled and 
bare heights covered with armed men — a wave of the hand, 
and they disappear again. They are general effects that we 
are conscious of ; we feel that the poet is interested in the 
people, not in the individual. His first and chief aim was to 
represent in strong relief the beautiful traditional customs of 
his country : the stranger is welcomed in the hut without a 
question being asked — the combatant chivalrously shares 
his plaid with his exhausted antagonist. His second aim 
was to excite his reader pleasurably by means of surprises : 
Fitzjames's Highland guide suddenly makes himself known 
as the redoubted chief, Roderick Dhu — Fitzjames himself 
proves to be the King of Scotland. But how light and 
joyous and healthfully pure is the flow of this hymn of praise 
of Scotland and the Scotch ! The King, high-spirited and 
honourable as one of Calderon's kings, masters his own 
passion ; and the Highlanders and the Lowlanders, men and 
women, have their hearts in the right place. We enjoy the 
glimpse into the harmonious world, and do not miss 
Wordsworth's castigatory and admonitory psychology. 

We have a really interesting counterpart to The Lady of the 
Lake in Wordsworth's White Doe of Rylstone, a narrative poem 
founded on one of the ballads in Percy's collection, and also 
begun in 1809. It is in this work that the poet of Rydal 
Mount, .who probably felt the spirit of rivalry stir within 
hftn, approaches nearest to Scott's peculiar domain. No one 
would dream of denying that the feeling in Wordsworth's 
poem is much deeper. His dislike of dazzling virtues and 
brilliant vices has led him to choose a hero who, although an 
obedient son and a valiant knight, refuses, from a sense of 
duty, to follow his father and his brother when they raise the 
standard of revolt against Queen Elizabeth of England, and 
who, misunderstood and repudiated, is obliged, without taking 
his share of the danger, to witness his kinsmen's defeat and 
ignominious punishment. Wordsworth has endowed this 
hero with self-abnegation, fortitude, generosity, and Christian 



u6 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

piety ; but there is too much affectation of profundity in the 
poem, too much dragging in of the half-supernatural, too 
much sentimentality and unction. Scott viewed nature and 
the old customs with the eye of a lover of the chase, Words- 
worth with the eye of the moralist. Wordsworth's ponderous 
cargo-boat ploughs its way heavily through the water ; Scott's 
poet's skiff flies along with all sails set, leaving only light 
bubbles of fancy behind in the reader's memory ; it is like the 
boat in the Third Canto of his poem, which flies so fast that 

u The bubbles where they launched the boat 
Were all unbroken and afloat, 
Dancing in foam and ripple still, 
When it had neared the mainland hill/' 

It is easy to understand that Scott's writings, with their 
glorification of the chivalrous virtues, of daring and courage, 
even when displayed by rebel chiefs, pirates, gipsies, 
smugglers, &c. ; in short, with its tendency in the direction 
of Byronic partiality for the bold and wild, were, from one 
point of view, highly objectionable in the eyes of the moral 
and Christian poets of the Lake School. Coleridge charged 
his novels with "ministering to the depraved appetite for 
excitement, and creating sympathy for the vicious and 
infamous, solely because the fiend is daring " ; and he con- 
cluded his ill-natured attack with the incorrect prophecy : 
" Not twenty lines of Scott's poetry will ever reach posterity ; 
it has relation to nothing." 

In 1 812 the first two cantos of Childe Harold saw the light. 
Not long after their publication, Byron wrote a most friendly 
letter to Scott, containing a hearty apology for the foolish 
attack in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. The younger 
poet had hastily taunted and reproached the elder, not only 
with choosing as his favourite hero a mixture of felon and 
knight (" not quite a felon, yet but half a knight "), but with 
accepting payment for his works ("racking his brains for 
lucre, not for fame ")— a thing which, in Tiis youth, Byron's 
aristocratic pride prevented his doing, much as he stood in 
need of money. After he left England for the second time, 
he, too, learned to make his art a lucrative profession. He 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM 117 

repented his rash condemnation of Scott as heartily as he 
repented all his other hasty judgments of the same nature, 
and the strained relationship between the two great and 
noble-hearted men gave way to the most friendly feeling. 

The influence of ChUde Harold on Scott's literary career 
was decisive. He was unbiassed enough to see plainly that 
he could not compete with Byron in narrative poetry, and he 
therefore determined to turn his attention to another branch 
of literature, that in which he was soon to stand unrivalled. 

The various utterances on this subject, and all the utter- 
ances regarding Byron, which are to be found in Scott's Life 
and Letters testify to the kindly disposition and attractive 
frankness of the great Scottish author. In 182 1 he said to a 
friend : " In truth, I have long given up poetry. I have had 
my day with the public ; and being no great believer in 
poetical immortality, I was very well pleased to rise a winner, 
without continuing the game till I was beggared of any credit 
I had acquired. Besides, I felt the prudence of giving way 
before the more forcible and powerful genius of Byron. If 
I were either greedy, or jealous of poetical fame, I might 
comfort myself with the thought, that I would hesitate to strip 
myself for the contest so fearlessly as Byron does ; or to 
command the wonder and terror of the public by exhibiting, 
in my own person, the sublime attitude of the dying gladiator. 
But with the old frankness of twenty years since, I will fairly 
own, that this same delicacy of mine may arise more from 
conscious want of vigour and inferiority, than from a delicate 
dislike to the nature of the conflict." And when, the year 
before his death, he was asked why he had relinquished 
poetry, he said quite simply : " Because Byron beat me." 
The gentleman with whom he was talking rejoined that he, for 
his part, remembered as many passages of his friend's poetry 
as of Byron's. Scott replied : u That may be, but he beat 
me out of the field in the description of the strong passions, 
and in deep-seated knowledge of the human heart." The 
recognition of this fact must have been a blow to Scott, but 
he could seek solace in the thought which he himself ex- 
pressed thus : " If I had occasion to be mortified by the dis- 
play of genius which threw into the shade such pretensions 



n8 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

as I was then supposed to possess, I might console myself 
that, in my own case, the materials of mental happiness had 
been mingled in a greater proportion." 

Waverley, published anonymously in February 1814, was 
s the first of the long series of novels which made Scott and 
his country famous throughout the whole civilised world. 
These works appeared at the time when the conclusion of 
peace with France and the hopeful prospects of the country 
generally, had occasioned a special access of national pride. 
They are not works which, like those of the greatest writers, 
Goethe and Shelley, for instance, indicate different stages of 
their author's development and culture ; nor are they works 
inspired by profoundly moving personal experiences ; they are 
the mature productions of an inexhaustible gift of story-telling 
and an extraordinary talent for description both of men and 
things. They mark a distinct advance in two matters — the 
understanding of history, and the representation of the life 
of the middle and lower classes. 

The historians of the eighteenth century, who saw, or 
expected, the realisation of the ideal in their own day, took 
up the position rather of orators than of authors; they 
occupied themselves with theoretical questions of government 
and civilisation, without consideration of the influence of 
climatic and geographical conditions, or of the past history of 
a nation — the conception of a nation as a race seldom sug- 
gesting itself to them. Sir Walter Scott, on the other hand, 
made it his endeavour as a writer of historical fiction to give 
a vivid impression of the peculiarities of certain periods and 
countries ; and he felt the less temptation to endow his heroes 
with the characteristics of his own day, as he in his inmost 
"'heart preferred the bright, stirring life of the past to the 
colourless reasonableness of that of his own century. 

A few years previously, Chateaubriand had, in Les 
Martyrs, made the first attempt to measure each age by 
its own standard, and to present the past to us in living 
pictures. But Scott was the real discoverer and first 
employer of that local colouring in literature which became 
the basis of the whole production of French Romanticism. 
Hugo, M6rim6e, and Gautier took to it at once. And Scott's 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM 119 

historic sense not only made him the pioneer of a whole 
school of poetry ; it gave his unassuming novels an immense 
influence over the whole historical literature of the new 
century. It was, for example, his Ivanhoe, with its de- 
scription of the strained relations between the Normans and 
the Saxons, which first suggested to Augustin Thierry the 
idea that the original force which produced such results as 
the exploits of Clovis, Charlemagne, and Hugo Capet, was 
the racial antagonism between the Gauls and the Franks. 
The man whose gift of insight into the inner life of the 
modern individual human being was so slight, and who 
in an age of peculiarly independent individual development, 
was hampered and biassed by the prejudices of patriotism, 
loyalty, and orthodox piety — this man, thanks to his vigorous 
Naturalism, had, when he observed these same individuals as 
a clan, as a nation, or as a race, a perfect understanding of 
their character as such. Accustomed as he was to reflect on 
the difference between Scotchmen and Englishmen, it was 
not unnatural that the idea of the racial antipathy between 
the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans should, as by an inspira- 
tion, occur to him ; and his understanding in such matters 
makes his descriptions of the same value to the student 
of racial, as Byron's are to the student of individual, 
psychology. 

And to this merit has to be added the great merit of his 
tales as descriptions of typical representatives of all classes 
of society. In the novels of the eighteenth century — 
Fielding's, for example — we pass from one tavern scene to 
another ; in Scott's we are introduced into private life, with 
all its domestic details. The descriptions owe their peculiar 
excellence to the vigorous realism with which each separate 
personage is depicted. Englishmen have always specially 
prized in their authors the gift of describing with such 
distinct, tangible detail that the object described stands out 
in relief before the reader's eye; their sturdy, healthy 
intellects enjoy the graphic vigour. They like the poetical 
picture executed in such strong colours that we see it before 
us as if it were a coat of arms painted on a shield. Scott, 
as a novelist, gratified this taste. His readers gladly forgave 



120 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

him the terrible prolixity of his descriptions and his con- 
versations, because the result was a graphic representation, 
attained either by enumerating a long list of attributes-or by 
perpetual insistence upon some one characteristic trait. 
And there is no doubt, that, tiresome as his procedure may 
sometimes be, he is one of the greatest character portrayers 
in all literature. Romanticism has produced nothing finer 
than such female characters as Diana Vernon in Rob Roy 
and Jeanie Deans in The Heart of Midlothian, ox such a historic 
portrait as Louis XI. in Quentin Durward. 

But in his production of fiction, Scott was from the 
beginning guilty of one great malpractice, a malpractice 
which descended to a whole group of talented novelists of 
a younger generation, namely, the inartistic hurry with 
which, tempted by the prospect of an enormously high 
price, he produced book after book as if they had been so 
many articles of manufacture. In 1809, he had entered into 
business relations with a firm of printers and publishers of 
the name of Ballantyne, who printed and published the 
Quarterly Review for him ; after he began to write novels he 
actually became a partner in this firm, which was, unfortu- 
nately, a more enterprising than safe one. Guy Mannering 
was written and printed in twenty-five days ; and Scott 
was soon producing at the average rate of twelve volumes in 
a year ; it was quite an ordinary thing for him to write 
forty printed pages in a morning. The sale corresponded 
to the enormous production ; 10,000 copies of Rob Roy were 
sold in one week ; and the later novels were disposed of 
even faster. In the year 1822, 145,000 volumes of the 
novels, old and new, were issued. The prices Scott received 
increased with the circulation of his books. For the two 
first editions of the Life of Napoleon he was paid ;£ 18,000, 
and his yearly receipts until 1826 were never less than 
^12,000. He spent his money in improving and enlarging 
his estate of Abbotsford, and in the erecting thereon of a 
castle-like mansion, where, with princely hospitality, he 
entertained hosts of visitors, many of whom settled down 
and made a lengthy stay. His fame and popularity in- 
creased steadily. 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM 121 

On the occasion of a visit to London in 1815, during 
which he was filed, not only as the author, but as the 
patriot — the distinguished citizen of Edinburgh who had 
made himself conspicuous by his ardent hatred of Napoleon 
— he was presented to the Prince Regent, who showed him 
many marks of favour. An anecdote has been preserved 
which gives an idea of the kind of wit with which the heir- 
apparent succeeded in ingratiating himself for a short time 
with those whose friendship he desired. There was a supper- 
party at the Prince Regent's, and Scott, as the guest of the 
evening, had been kept talking and telling stories almost 
without intermission, the Prince all the time trying, jestingly, 
to inveigle him into owning himself to be the author of the 
Waverley Novels. Scott skilfully extricated himself from 
one dilemma after another. To prevent further questioning 
he entertained the company with a true story of an old 
acquaintance, the Scottish judge, Lord Braxfield. When on 
circuit, Braxfield was in the habit of spending a night at the 
house of a wealthy landed proprietor, who, like himself, was 
a keen chess-player. They often left a game to be finished 
the following year. The said landed proprietor committed 
a forgery, and it fell to Braxfield's lot to pronounce the 
sentence of death on his friend, and opponent in the game. 
He put on the black cap and read the sentence, which ends 
with the words, " to be hanged by the neck until you be 
dead." Having concluded the awful formula with due 
solemnity, he took off the cap, and with a satisfied smile 
and nod to his old partner, added : " And now, Donald, my 
man, I think I've checkmated ye for ancel" The words 
were hardly out of Scott's mouth when the Prince Regent 
shouted : " A bumper with all the honours to the author of 
Waverley ! and another of the same to the author of Marmion ! " 
adding, with a laugh at Scott's conscious expression and 
gestures of denial : " And now, Walter, my man, I have 
checkmated you for ancel " 

The Heart of Midlothian, one of the best of Scott's works^ 
appeared in 181 8, and raised him to the height of his fame. 
It was followed, in December 18 19, by Ivanhoe, which was also 
received with the most enthusiastic approbation. We learn, 



j 



122 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

in connection with this masterly novel, how few and how 
insignificant were the elements of reality which Scott re- 
quired as a foundation for his imaginary world. A certain 
Mr. Skene, who had been travelling in Germany, told him a 
good deal about the condition of the Jews there, their peculiar 
dress and customs, and the severity with which they were 
treated. This was enough foundation for a story of such 
quality as that of Isaac and Rebecca. Scott in private life 
held, as we have seen, extremely narrow-minded opinions 
on the question of the political rights of dissenters from the 
established religion of the country ; it is, consequently, all 
the greater honour to him that, as an author, he was unpre- 
judiced enough to make a Jewess the heroine of his novel, 
and to endow her with such a matchlessly ideal and yet 
natural character. 

In 1823 appeared QuenHn Durward, a work in which 
Sir Walter for the first time chose a foreign theme, and 
which made his fame as great in France, Germany, and Italy 
as it already was in England and America. A perusal of the 
journal of Mr. Skene's tour in France was all that was 
necessary to enable the author to give his tale its admirable 
local colouring. 

Scott's name was now in every one's mouth, and was 
familiar even to the most uneducated of his countrymen. 
In London, at the time of the coronation of George IV., he 
got into a crowd on the line of the royal procession, and 
was in actual danger because of his lameness. He addressed 
a sergeant, begging to be allowed to pass by him into the 
open ground in the middle of the street. The man answered 
shortly that his orders were strict, that the thing was impos- 
sible. Some new wave of turbulence approaching from 
behind, Sir Walter's companion cried in a loud voice: 
"Take care, Sir Walter Scott, take care!" The stalwart 
dragoon, on hearing the name, said : " What ! Sir Walter 
Scott ! He shall get through anyhow ! " He then addressed 
the soldiers near him — " Make room, men, for Sir Walter 
Scott, our great countryman ! " The men answered : " Sir 
Walter Scott I — God bless him ! " — and he was in a moment 
within the guarded line of safety. We are reminded of the 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM 123 

story of the French army in Africa receiving Horace Vernet 
with flourish of trumpet and beat of drum, and all the 
military honours due to a general. One can hardly imagine 
a greater triumph for an artist than this homage of the 
people. 

In 1826 came a turn in the great man's fortunes. The 
firm of Ballantyne, in which he was a partner, failed ; and 
to the horror of Sir Walter, who in all private money matters 
was scrupulously exact, the deficit proved to amount to the 
enormous sum of ^117,000. He bore his ruin like a man. 
The Royal Bank sent a deputation to him with the message 
that it placed itself at his disposal ; he received an anony- 
mous offer of a gift of ^30,000 ; but these and all other 
offers of assistance he refused. He heroically resolved on 
the desperate course of endeavouring to pay off the enor- 
mous debt with his pen, determining to work without respite 
until he had discharged the liabilities with which the reck- 
lessness and carelessness of others had burdened him. It 
is not surprising that from this time onwards the quality of 
his works degenerated steadily. The unfortunate author 
signed contracts for books — bound himself to produce so and 
so many volumes per year, of the contents of which, nay, of 
the very titles of which he had not even thought. 

At this unhappy time, only a few months after the failure, 
he lost his beloved wife. The pressure of business was such 
that he was unable to sit by her deathbed. He wrote cease- 
lessly — half a volume of Woodstock in four days — harassed all 
the time by the claims of unfortunate creditors. The man who 
was accustomed to have his house full of visitors, now lived 
the life of a hermit. Captain Basil Hall has described the 
painful impression it made on him to see Sir Walter Scott, 
who had been in the habit of taking his meals with his wife 
opposite him and friends and strangers round his table, 
sitting down alone, to a table laid for one. 

He undertook several journeys — one to Paris, for the 
purpose of collecting authentic anecdotes concerning 
Napoleon. On this occasion a deputation of the dames de 
la hatte presented him with a monster bouquet. He issued a 
complete edition of his works ; of the first nine volumes 



j 



124 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

35,000 copies were sold. He paid many of his debts. The 
political reforms in England were a subject of great grief to 
him ; in 1830 he declared: "England is no longer a place 
for an honest man." Exhausted, ill, with part of his face 
disfigured by a stroke of paralysis, he went abroad for the 
last time. In Naples he actually still, busied himself in 
collecting the greatest possible number of old Italian ballads 
and songs. He became so ill that he hastened home to die 
in his own country, and breathed his last at Abbotsford in 
September 1832, exactly six months after Goethe. 

All his life Scott was a sincere, mildly rationalistic 
believer, entirely unaffected by the questioning, daring 
science of his century. In 1825 he said: "There are 
few, I trust, who disbelieve the existence of a God; nay, 
I doubt if at all times, and in all moods, any single indi- 
vidual ever adopted that hideous creed." In the course of 
the same conversation, however, he allowed that u penal 
fires and heavenly melody" were possibly only meta- 
phorical expressions. And we know that Lord Byron's 
dedication of Cain to him, instead of offending him, gave 
him pleasure. In religion, as in politics and literature, he 
never attained to personal emancipation from the traditions 
by which the individual is fettered from his birth. Here, 
too, he left a task which the position of affairs plainly im- 
posed, to be accomplished by the next generation of authors. 

When we look back from the vantage-ground of our own 
day on the second, the prose, period of Scott's authorship, 
we find it impossible to see the long series of the Waverley 
Novels in the same light in which they appeared to his con- 
temporaries. We understand the satisfaction which lay in the 
certainty that they would never give offence, that they might 
always be welcomed gladly, not only as gifted, but as per- 
fectly moral works. This particular qualification is, how- 
ever, exactly what makes them less attractive to us. There 
is no exaggeration in declaring it to be a law in the modern 
literature of every country, that an author must cause offence 
to at least one generation of his contemporaries, and be 
considered immoral by it, if he is not to seem tiresome and 
narrow-minded to readers of the period immediately succeed- 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM 125 

ing his own. To us the defects of Scott's novels are very 
plain. They give pleasure by their excellent character-draw- 
ing and the liveliness of their dialogue, but they do not satisfy 
the reason, do not appeal very strongly to the feelings, do 
not even arouse any great degree of curiosity. They are soul- 
ful, but idealess. We feel that Scott, as a patriotic author, 
was determined to keep up the interest in Scotland which 
Macpherson and Burns had awakened in the reading 
public ; therefore he writes in such a manner as to estrange 
not even the most narrow-minded reader. Himself denied 
the sensual organisation of the artist, he is so discreet in his 
treatment of the relations between the sexes that there is 
next to no description of erotic situations. And, the moral to 
be conveyed seeming of greater importance to him than art, 
he represents past ages with such a toning down of all the 
coarse elements that historic truth suffers terribly. The 
species of fiction which Scott introduced, and which indi- 
cated a distinct step in advance of the older novel, is now in 
its turn antiquated ; the literary critics of every country 
lean to the opinion that the historical novel, with all its 
merits, is a bastard species — now it is so hampered with 
historical material that the poetic development of the story 
is rendered impossible, again it is so free in its paraphase of 
history that the real and the fictitious elements produce a very 
discordant whole. In the third volume of The Heart of 
Midlothian (Chap, x.), for example, the manner in which 
imaginary speeches are mixed up with the historical utter- 
ances of the Duke of Argyle, distinctly offends the critical 
taste. It becomes, moreover, increasingly evident how differ- 
ent the general impression conveyed by Scott's pictures of past 
times is from the essential character of these far-off days, 
an unvarnished representation of which, supposing it to be 
understood at all, would certainly fail to awaken sympathy. 
His Tales of the Crusaders are circulating- library novels, 
which describe the wonder-lands and the romantic, adventur- 
ous deeds of the Crusades with almost as little regard to 
reality as Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata; but which do not 
display anything like the Italian's poetic talent, or his 
artistically conscientious attention to style. 



126 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

How could it be otherwise in the case of an author like 
Scott, who wrote without ever re-reading, much less correct- 
ing, a page, who had not the gift of conciseness, and who 
made no serious demands on himself in the matter of com- 
position ? He demands still less of his readers, as far as 
attention and quick apprehension are concerned. He repeats 
himself and allows his characters to repeat themselves, puts 
in his word in the middle of the story, points out and 
explains. Not satisfied with showing the temperament and 
character of his personages by their mode of action, he makes 
them, when necessary, give account of themselves in such 
phrases as : "I am speaking with calmness, though it is 
contrary to my character " ; or in speeches in which the 
speaker draws the moral lesson from his own wicked actions, 
in case the reader should by any chance miss it and be 
tempted to imitation. (Read, for example, George Staunton's 
whole confession to Jeanie Deans, a model of bad style and 
false psychology.) With such serious faults as these in the 
details, it is of little avail that the plots of the best novels are 
excellent, leading up naturally to dramatic crises, one or 
more as the case may be. A book which is to retain its 
fame for centuries must not only be poetically planned, 
but artistically elaborated in every detail — a task for which 
Scott, from the moment he began to write in prose, never 
left himself time. Even the most dramatic scene he ever 
wrote — the splendid and powerfully affecting trial -scene 
in The Heart of Midlothian, in which Jeanie, with a bleeding 
heart, but with noble devotion to the truth, gives witness 
against her own sister — loses half of its effect from the care- 
less prolixity of the style. We learn from Moore's Memoirs 
that the main theme of the book — the story of the young 
^ girl who refuses to give witness in court in favour of her 
sister, and afterwards undertakes the long journey to beg a 
pardon for her — is a true story, which was communicated to 
Scott in an anonymous letter. He has evidently had the 
keenest perception of the moral beauty of the incident, but 
very little of its essentially dramatic character. If he had pos- 
sessed only half the amount of talent that he had, along with 
double the amount of culture and instinct of self-criticism, 



HISTORICAL NATURALISM 127 

he would doubtless have made less stir in the world, but he 
would have produced works of greater and more enduring 
value. 1 He himself felt that what prevented him from attain- 
ing to the highest in the domain of literature was his 
defective education. In his Journal (i. 56, 57) there is a 
curious little survey of his life : " What a life mine has 
been ! — half educated, almost wholly neglected or left to myself, 
stuffing my head with most nonsensical trash, undervalued 
in society for a time by most of my companions, getting 
forward, and held a bold, clever fellow, contrary to the 
opinion of all who thought me a mere dreamer. . . . Now 
taken in my pitch of pride, and nearly winged, because 
London chooses to be in an uproar, and in the tumult of 
bulls and bears, a poor inoffensive lion like myself is pushed 
to the wall." 

It is a dangerous thing for a modern author to be 
entirely unaffected by the progress of science. If he has 
not, like Byron, the gift of divining by a kind of clairvoy- 
ance what science is seeking and ascertaining, his works 
fall from the hands of the cultivated reader, to be seized 
by readers who are only seeking entertainment ; or they 
are preserved and bound by the cultivated readers, to be 
given away as birthday and Christmas gifts to their sons 
and daughters, nephews and nieces. Such has been Scott's 
fate. The author who in the second and third decades of 
the nineteenth century ruled the book-market, whose influ- 
ence was felt in every country of Europe, who in France 
had imitators like Alfred de Vigny, Hugo, M6rim6e, Balzac, 
and the elder Dumas (The Three Musketeers), in Italy a 
disciple like Manzoni, in Germany an intellectual kinsman 
like Fouqu6, in Denmark admirers and pupils like Poul 
Mdller, Ingemann, and Hauch, has become, by the silent, 
instructive verdict of time, the favourite author of boys 
and girls of fourteen or thereabouts, an author whom all 
grown-up people have read, and no grown-up people read. 

1 He does not seem to have had any understanding of plastic art Desiring to 
give an impression of the old Puritan in The Heart of Midlothian, he evolves the 
following artistically impossible fabulous creature : " The whole formed a picture, of 
which the lights might have been given by Rembrandt, but the outline would have 
required the force and vigour of Michael Angelo," 



XI 

ALL-EMBRACING SENSUOUSNESS 

In Keats's magnificent fragment, Hyperion, there is a scene 
in which the whole overthrown race of Titanic gods hold 
counsel in a dark, underground cavern. Their chief, old 
Saturn, concludes his despondent speech with the words : 

" Yet ye are here, 
0*erwhelm'd and spurn'd, and battertt, ye are here 1 
O Titans, shall I say, * Arise ! ' — Ye groan : 
Shall I say * Crouch 1 ' — Ye groan. What can I then ? 
O Heaven wide ! O unseen parent dear ! 
What can I ? Tell me, all ye brethren Gods, 
How we can war, how engine our great wrath !' 

Then Oceanus, the thoughtful, meditative s$a god, rises, 
shakes his locks, no longer watery, and, in the murmuring 
voice which his tongue has caught from the break of the 
waves on the shore, bids the passion-stung deities take 
comfort from the thought that they have fallen by the 
course of Nature's law, and not by the force of thunder 
or of Jove : — 

" Great Saturn, thou 
Hast sifted well the atom-universe ; 
But for this reason, that thou art the King, 
And only blind from sheer supremacy, 
One avenue was shaded from thine eyes, 
Through which I wandered to eternal truth. 
And first, as thou wast not the first of powers, 
So art thou not the last ; it cannot be : 
Thou art not the beginning nor the end. 
From Chaos and parental Darkness came 
Light, the first fruits of that intestine broil, 
That sullen ferment, which for wondrous ends 
Was ripening in itself. The ripe hour came, 
And with it light, and light engendering 
Upon its own producer, forthwith touch'd 

xiS 




JOHN KEATS 




ALL-EMBRACING SENSUOUSNESS 129 

The whole enormous matter into life. 

Upon that very hour, our parentage, 

The Heavens and the Earth, were manifest : 

Then thou first-born, and we the giant race, 

Found ourselves ruling new and beauteous realms. 

Now comes the pain of truth, to whom 'tis pain ; 

folly ! for to bear all naked truths, 
And to envisage circumstance, all calm, 
That is the top of sovereignty. Mark well 1 
As Heaven and Earth are fairer, fairer far 

Than Chaos and blank Darkness, though once chiefs ; 

And as we show beyond that Heaven and Earth 

In form and shape compact and beautiful, 

In will, in action free, companionship, 

And thousand other signs of purer life ; 

So on our heels a fresh perfection treads, 

A power more strong in beauty, born of us 

And fated to excel us, as we pass 

In glory that old Darkness : nor are we 

Thereby more conquertt, than by us the rule 

Of shapeless Chaos. Say, doth the dull soil 

Quarrel with the proud forests it hath fed, 

And feedeth still, more comely than itself? 

Can it deny the chiefdom of green groves ? 

Or shall the tree be envious of the dove 

Because it cooeth, and hath snowy wings 

To wander wherewithal and find its joys ? 

We are such forest-trees, and our fair boughs 

Have bred forth, not pale solitary doves, 

But eagles golden-feathertt, who do tower 

Above us in their beauty, and must reign 

In right thereof ; for 'tis the eternal law 

That first in beauty should be first in might : 

Yet by that law, another race may drive 

Our conquerors to mourn as we do now. 

Have ye beheld the young God of the Seas, 

My dispossessor ? Have ye seen his face ? 

Have ye beheld his chariot, foam'd along 

By noble winged creatures he hath made ? 

1 saw him on the calmed waters scud, 
With such a glow of beauty in his eyes, 
That it enforced me to bid sad farewell 
To all my empire." 

Thus speaks Oceanus. And the fallen deities, either 
convinced or in sullen anger, keep silence. At last one, 
of whom no one has thought, the goddess Clymene, breaks 

VOL. iv. I 



130 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

the long silence, speaking timidly among the fierce, with 
hectic lips and gentle glances : — 

" O Father, I am here the simplest voice, 
And all my knowledge is that joy is gone, 
And this thing woe crept in among our hearts, 
There to remain for ever, as I fear : 
I would not bode of evil, if I thought 
So weak a creature could turn off the help 
Which by just right should come of mighty Gods ; 
Yet let me tell my sorrow, let me tell 
Of what I heard, and how it made me weep, 
And know that we had parted from all hope. — 
I stood upon a shore, a pleasant shore, 
Where a sweet clime was breathed from a land 
Of fragrance, quietness, and trees, and flowers. 
Full of calm joy it was, as I of grief; 
Too full of joy and soft delicious warmth ; 
So that I felt a movement in my heart 
To chide, and to reproach that solitude 
With songs of misery, music of our woes ; 
And sat me down, and took a mouthed shell 
And murmured into it, and made melody — 

melody no more ! for while I sang, 
And with poor skill let pass into the breeze 
The dull shell's echo, from a bowery strand 
Just opposite, an island of the sea, 

There came enchantment with the shifting wind, 
That did both drown and keep alive my ears. 

1 threw my shell away upon the sand, 
And a wave filPd it, as my sense was filPd 
With that new blissful golden melody. 

A living death was in each gush of sounds, 

Each family of rapturous hurried notes, 

That fell, one after one, yet all at once, 

Like pearl beads dropping sudden from their string : 

And then another, then another strain, 

Each like a dove leaving its olive perch, 

With music wing*d instead of silent plumes, 

To hover round my head, and make me sick 

Of joy and grief at once. Grief overcame, 

And I was stopping up my frantic ears, 

When, past all hindrance of my trembling hands, 

A voice came sweeter, sweeter than all tune, 

And still it cried, * Apollo ! young Apollo 1 

The morning-bright Apollo I young Apollo 1 ' 

I fled, it followed me, and cried 'Apollo ! ' n 



ALL-EMBRACING SENSUOUSNESS 131 

Keats has surpassed himself in this passage, which is as 
profound in thought as it is beautiful. It is not only a 
proof of the quality of his poetic gift, but the announce- 
ment of the appearance of a younger generation of poets 
in the field held by the poets of the Lake School and 
Scott. In the name of the reigning deities, the human 
intellect is too often condemned to inactivity and stagna- 
tion. If there is to be progress, a change of rulers is 
frequently called for. Wordsworth and Scott were mighty 
Titans whose glory paled when the younger generation 
appeared. Keats himself was the golden-feathered bird that 
rose high into the air above Wordsworth's leafy old oak. 
And Byron — was not he the new ocean god, who " troubled 
the waters" of passion with such power that the greatest 
literary genius of the day abdicated in his favour, assured 
that it was in vain to compete with him ? And Shelley's 
melodies, intoxicatingly sweet, unprecedentedly daring — 
were they not borne on all the winds, and are they not still 
penetrating everywhere, though many, like Clymene, stop 
their ears and refrain as long as possible from listening 
to the new tones? The struggle is a vain one, for now 
on every side resounds the cry : " Apollo ! morning-bright 
Apollo!" 

The old gods, as in the poem, assumed different attitudes 
at this crisis in their fates. Scott, the noblest of them 
all, acknowledged his defeat by Byron with an amiable 
dignity which still further enhanced his reputation. 
Wordsworth retired to his Lakes, muttering an accusa- 
tion of plagiarism. Southey poured forth volleys of abuse. 
Meanwhile the new, young gods mounted the thrones of the 
old, and round their heads shone the bright halo of the 
light that they gave forth. 

Keats was the youngest of the young race of giants, and 
he had peculiar qualities and a peculiar domain of his own, 
into which none of the others intruded. He is one of the 
many examples of singularly delicate and refined organisms 
appearing in the most unlikely outward surroundings and 
developing almost unaided by circumstances. This youth 
who, dying at the age of twenty-six, has left behind him 



132 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

master-works which none who read them can forget, and 
whose name is immortalised in Shelley's Adonais> was the 
son of a London livery-stable keeper, and was bred an 
apothecary. Few of the elder literary celebrities knew him. 
Wordsworth, the only one among them on whom his eyes 
were steadily turned, and with more reverence than was felt 
by any of the other young men — even Wordsworth showed 
himself cold. At Haydon the painter's, one evening, when 
Wordsworth was present, Keats was induced to repeat to him 
the famous Hymn to Pan from the First Book of Endy- 
tnion. The " iron-grey poet " heard it to the end, and then 
only remarked that it was "a pretty piece of paganism." 
And so, praise be to Keats, it is ! Wordsworth, however, meant 
nothing flattering by the remark. Such was the verdict of 
the most influential member of the elder school of poetry. 
The elder school of criticism was distinctly adverse. Its 
verdict was harsh and scathing. Both the Quarterly Review 
and Blackwood's Magazine jeered foolishly at Endymion. The 
author was told that " it is a better and a wiser thing to be 
a starved apothecary than a starved poet," and was bidden 
" back to his gallipots." Calmly as the young poet writes 
of the ignominious treatment he received, there can be no 
doubt that the sting rankled deeply. It is most improbable 
that the report spread among Keats's acquaintances of the 
ruinous effect of these criticisms on his health, was, 
as is now maintained, entirely without foundation. He 
certainly was not, as Byron in Don Juan declares him to 
have been, killed by a savage article in the Quarterly ; and 
his own utterances give ample proof of his profound con- 
tempt for these disparagements of his art and his personality ; 
but his ambition was excessive, his susceptibility equally so, 
and his body contained the germs of a fatal disease ; and it 
would be surprising if rancorous attacks from without had 
not affected an organism which was preyed upon from 
within by consuming passion and consuming disease. 

John Keats was born in October 1795. At the age of 
nine he lost his father. His mother sent him to a good 
school ; but she, too, to his inexpressible grief, died while 
he was still a boy. His appearance corresponded to the 



ALL-EMBRACING SENSUOUSNESS 133 

impression which his poetry makes on us. Whilst the 
feminine and ethereal Shelley had a slender, slightly-built, 
narrow-chested figure and a shrill voice, the heavier footed, 
more earth-bound Keats was deep-chested and broad- 
shouldered ; his lower limbs were small in comparison with 
the upper ; and he had a deep, grave voice. His small 
head was covered with thick brown curls ; the eyes were 
large and of a dark, on occasion glowing, blue ; the hand- 
some mouth had a projecting lower lip, which gave the face 
a defiant and pugnacious expression. And as a matter of fact 
he was, as a boy, a perfect little terrier for resoluteness and 
pugnacity, and seemed much more likely to distinguish him- 
self in war than in literature. He early displayed great 
personal courage, and was an adept in all athletic exercises ; 
just before he was attacked by consumption he thrashed an 
insolent butcher in a regular stand-up fight. 

At the age of fifteen he left school, and was apprenticed 
by his relations to a clever surgeon-apothecary at Edmonton, 
with whom he remained till he was twenty, when he began, 
as a medical student, to walk the London hospitals. He 
soon, however, gave up medicine for literature, and lived for 
several years in close companionship with some of the rising 
young literary men and artists of the day. Then he was 
attacked by the disease which had carried off his mother 
and his younger brother. The absence of any prospect of 
earning a living, and the ever-increasing pressure of poverty, 
favoured its development, which was farther hastened by a 
violent and hopeless passion for a young Anglo-Indian lady 
— a passion only rendered hopeless by Keats's poverty and 
ill-health — his love being returned. His health obliged him 
to quit the neighbourhood of his beloved and take a journey 
to Italy, where he died. 

Glancing over the non-literary part of Keats's life, we 
distinguish three facts of leading importance — his want of 
any real prospect of gaining a livelihood (he had thoughts 
of emigrating to South America, or applying for a post as 
surgeon on an Indiaman) ; the ardent^ aadLhopdess passion 
for the woman without whom life was worthless to him ; and 
the wasting disease. 



134 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Miss Fanny Brawne was eighteen, five years younger 
than Keats, when he made her acquaintance in 1818. He 
and his friend, Brown, had settled at Hampstead, in a semi- 
detached house, the other half of which was occupied by 
Miss Brawne and her mother. The first six months aftei 
he fell in love were to Keats months of real happiness. In 
December 181 8 he began Hyperion. In February 1819, * e 
most fruitful month in his life, he wrote the Ode to Psyche, 
The Eve of St. Agnes, and great part of Hyperion. And early 
in the spring, sitting under a plum-tree in the Brawnes' 
y garden, he wrote his Ode to the Nightingale. In other words 
— his most beautiful poetry was written in the half year 
during which he took long walks with Fanny, and was still a 
healthy man. Unfortunately, it being possible for him to 
see his beloved every day, we have not a single love-letter 
dating from this, his short period of happiness. In July 
1 8 19 he wrote to her for the first time ; and all the letters 
which he sent her from that date until the time of his death 
were published in 1878. 

They are not melancholy to begin with. In one of the 
earliest he writes : " I want a brighter word than bright, a 
fairer word than fair ; " and to some objection made by her 
he answers : " Why may I not speak of your Beauty, since 
without that I could never have lov'd you ? — I cannot con- 
ceive any beginning of such love as I have for you but 
Beauty. There may be a sort of love for which, without 
the least sneer at it, I have the highest respect and can 
admire it in others ; but it has not the richness, the bloom, 
the full form, the enchantment of love after my own heart." 

Very soon, however, the jealousy which was to have 
such a wearing effect upon the lover appears in his letters. 
Again and again he exacts promises of eternal devotion. 
Though not yet ill, he has a vague presentiment that his end 
is not far off. " I have two luxuries to brood over in my 
walks," he writes ; " your Loveliness and the hour of my 
death. O that I could have possession of them both in the 
same minute ! " 

Her letters had really only a depressing effect on him. 
He read them so often that each sentence assumed a dis- 



ALL-EMBRACING SENSUOUSNESS 135 

torted proportion ; and they seemed to him now cold, 
now full of reproaches. He tortured first himself and then 
her with his suspicious irritableness and perversity ; he 
would, for example, pass her door without going in, though 
he was longing to see her, and knew that his not appearing 
was a disappointment to her. There are a few perfectly 
happy, tender letters, dated October 1819. But in February 
1820 commences a period of miserable excitement. He 
begins to spit blood, and "reads his death-warrant in its 
colour." After this the letters are short, some of them still 
playful and hopeful, others suspicious and violent in their 
jealousy — all brimming over with passion. Here is a frag- 
ment : " You know our situation — what hope is there if I 
should be recovered ever so soon — my very health will not 
suffer me to make any great exertion. I am recommended 
not even to read poetry, much less write it. I cannot say 
forget me — but I would mention that there are impossi- 
bilities in the world. No more of this. I am not strong 
enough to be weaned — take no notice of it in your good- 
night." 

During his apparent convalescence he is constantly 
begging her to come and show herself only for half a minute 
outside of the window through which he can see her, or to 
walk a little in the garden. Then he asks her not to come 
every day, because he cannot always bear to see her. But 
when, according to his wish, she does not come, he is rest- 
less and jealous. 

As the end approaches, the letters become ever sadder 
and more distressing to read. The last of them are positively 
harrowing. He is as wild and helpless in his passionate 
despair as a child who believes himself forgotten. It is the 
mental death-struggle preceding the physical. 

Fanny Brawne's tenderness for her lover never wavered. 
It is now evident that, as was only natural, this young girl 
with the touch of coquetry in her nature had no suspicion 
whatever of the gifts and powers of the poor consumptive 
youth who worshipped and tortured her. But she loved 
him for his own sake, and when, from the last letter, she 
learned in what a sad condition he really was, she and her 



136 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

mother would no longer leave him to the care of his friend, 
but took him into their own house in Wentworth Place, 
where he lived for the last month before he left for Italy. 
A stay in that country had been prescribed, as giving him a 
last chance of recovery. 

The man to whom, in other circumstances, the prospect 
of seeing the country for which he had always longed, and 
whose gods he had awakened from the dead, would have 
given supreme happiness, now writes : " This journey to 
Italy wakes me at daylight every morning, and haunts me 
horribly. I shall endeavour to go, though it be with the 
sensation of marching up against a Battery." On board 
ship he writes, referring to his attachment to Miss Brawne : 
" Even if my body would recover of itself, this would 
prevent it. The very thing which I want to live most for 
will be a great occasion of my death. I cannot help it. . . . 
I wish for death every day and night to deliver me from 
these pains, and then I wish death away, for death would 
destroy even those pains which are better than nothing. 
Land and sea, weakness and decline, are great separators, 
but death is the great divorcer for ever. ... I seldom think 
of my brother and sister in America. The thought of 
leaving Miss Brawne is beyond everything horrible — the 
sense of darkness coming over me — I eternally see her figure 
eternally vanishing." And in another letter he writes: 
" The persuasion that I shall see her no more will kill me. 
My dear Brown, I should have had her when I was in 
health, and I should have remained well. I can bear to die 
— I cannot bear to leave her. O God ! God ! God ! Every- 
thing I have in my trunks that reminds me of her goes 
through me like a spear. The silk lining she put in my 
travelling cap scalds my head. My imagination is horribly 
vivid about her — I see her — I hear her. There is nothing 
in the world of sufficient interest to divert me from her 
for a moment. ... I cannot say a word about Naples ; 
I do not feel at all concerned in the thousand novelties 
around me. I am afraid to write to her — I should like her 
to know that I do not forget her. Oh, Brown, I have coals 
of fire in my breast. It surprises me that the human heart 



ALL-EMBRACING SENSUOUSNESS 137 

is capable of containing and bearing so much misery. Was 
I born for this end ? " 

On the last day of November 1820, Keats wrote his 
last letter. His intimate old friend, Dr. Clark, a skilful 
physician, preserved his life till the end of the winter. While 
in Naples, Keats received a letter from his brother poet, 
Shelley, inviting him to come to Pisa, where he would be 
nursed and cared for in every way. But this invitation he 
did not accept. After several weeks of great suffering came 
rest and sleep, resignation and tranquillity. He desired 
that a letter from his beloved, which he had not dared to 
read, along with a purse and a letter which he had received 
from his sister, should be placed in his coffin ; and that on 
his gravestone should be inscribed : 

" Here lies one whose name was writ in water." 

The touch of Shelley's magic wand stiffened the water into 
crystal, and the name stands inscribed for all time. 1 

Keats's poetry is the most fragrant flower of English 
Naturalism. Before he appeared, this Naturalism had had a 
long period of vigorous growth. Its active principle had 
been evolved by Wordsworth, who developed it so methodi- 
cally that he divided his poems into groups, corresponding 
to the different periods of human life and the different 
faculties of the soul. Coleridge provided it with the support 
of a philosophy of nature which had a strong resemblance 
to Schelling's. In Scott it assumes the highly successful 
form of a study of men, manners, and scenery, inspired by 
patriotism, by interest in history, and by a wonderful appre- 
hension of the significance of race. Both in Moore and 
Keats it takes the form of gorgeous sensuousness, is the 
literary expression of the perceptions of beings whose sensi- 
tiveness to impressions of the beauty of the external world 
makes that of the average human being seem blunt and dull. 
But the sensuousness of Moore's poetry, which reveals itself 

1 «• Death, the immortalising winter, flew 

Athwart the stream — and time's printless torrent grew 

A scroll of crystal, blazoning the name 

Of Adonais."— Fragment on Keats : Shelley. 



138 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

artistically in his warm, bright colouring, is confined to 
the erotic domain, and is of a light and playful character. 
Keats's is full-blooded, serious sensuousness, by no means 
specially erotic, but all-embracing, and, in this its compre- 
hensiveness, one of the most admirable developments of 
English Naturalism. This Naturalism led Wordsworth into 
one extreme, which has already been referred to ; Keats 
it led into a different and more poetical one. 

Keats was more of the artist than any of his English 
brother poets. He troubled himself less about principles 
s than any of them. There is no groundwork of patriotism in 
his poetry as there is in Scott's and Moore's ; no message of 
/ liberty, as in Shelley's and Byron's ; it is pure art, owing its 
y - origin to nothing but the power of imagination. It was one 
of his favourite sayings, that the poet should have no 
principles, no morality, no self. Why ? Because the true 
poet enjoys both light and shade — has as much delight in 
conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. All poets who have 
forgotten themselves in the theme of their flights of fancy, 
have, when engaged in production, to the best of their 
ability banished their private peculiarities and preferences. 
Few have managed to make such a clean sweep as Keats of 
their personal hopes, enthusiasms, and principles. His study 
was, as one of his admirers has said, " a painter's studio with 
very little in it besides the easel." 

Keats's poetical indifference to theories and principles 
was, however, in itself a theory and a principle — was the 
philosophy which has its foundation in poetic worship of 
nature. To the consistent pantheistic poet all forms, all 
shapes, all expressions of life on earth which engage the 
imagination, are precious, and all equally precious. Keats, 
as poet, recognises no truth of the kind that means improve- 
ment or exclusion ; but he has an almost religious faith in 
w imagination as the source of truth. In one of his letters he 
expresses himself thus : — " I am certain of nothing but of the 
holiness of the heart's affections, and the truth of Imagina- 
tion. What the Imagination seizes as Beauty must be 
Truth, whether it existed before or not ; — for I have the 
same idea of all our passions as of Love : they are all, in 



ALL-EMBRACING SENSUOUSNESS 139 

their sublime, creative of essential Beauty. . . . The 
Imagination may be compared to Adam's dream ; he awoke 
and found it truth." He enlarges on the difference between 
this kind of truth and the truth arrived at by consecutive 
reasoning, and concludes with an exclamation which is a key 
to the whole of his poetry : — " However it may be, O for a 
life of sensations rather than of thoughts ! " 

He led in great part a life of passive sensation, of plea- 
sure and pain through the senses. "Take," says Masson, 
" a book of physiology and go over the so-called classes of 
sensations one by one — the sensations of the mere muscular 
states ; the sensations connected with such vital processes 
as circulation, alimentation, respiration, and electrical inter- 
communication with surrounding bodies ; the sensations of 
taste ; those of odour ; those of hearing ; and those of sight 
— and Keats will be found to have been unusually endowed 
in them all." 

He had, for example, an extreme sensitiveness to the. 
pleasures of the palate, and tried to heighten them by extra- 
ordinary stimulants. A friend tells us that he once saw 
Keats covering his tongue with cayenne pepper, that he 
might enjoy the delicious sensation of a draught of cold 
claret after it. "Talking of pleasure," he says himself in 
one of his letters, "this moment I was writing with one 
hand and with the other holding to my mouth a nectarine." 
It is therefore not surprising that imagery drawn from the 
domain of the sense of taste is of frequent occurrence in 
Keats's poetry. In his deservedly famous Ode to Melancholy 
we are told that this goddess has her sovran shrine in the 
very temple of Delight — 

" Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue 
Can burst Jo^s grape against kis palate fine? 

And in one of his last sonnets he characteristically mentions 
" the palate of my mind losing its gust " as an indication of 
approaching death. 

Naturally the senses of hearing and sight provided him 
with a much greater proportion of his imagery than the 
inferior, less noble senses. He had a musician's love of 



/: 



140 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

music and a painter's eye for variations of light and colour. 
And for all the different kinds of sound and smell and taste 
and sensations of touch, he possessed a store of words which 
any of the greatest poets might have envied. In short, he 
was by nature endowed with qualities which in combination, 
and in their full development, constituted supreme capacity 
to perceive and to reproduce all the beauty of nature. 

To be able to reproduce it was from the very beginning 
his dream ; and the man who affirmed that, except in the 
matter of art, he had no « opinions," expressed enthusiastic 
approval of the revolution of opinion in regard to the arti- 
ficial, so-called classical, poetry of the eighteenth century, 
which had been brought about by Wordsworth and Cole- 
ridge. Spenser was Keats's idol, the classic poets were his 
aversion. In his poem, Sleep and Poetry, he has embodied 
an artistic confession of faith in language which could not 
well be more violent. After describing the old poetic 
triumphs of England, he exclaims : 

" Could all this be forgotten ? Yes, a schism 
Nurtured by foppery and barbarism 
Made great Apollo blush for this his land. 
Men were thought wise who could not understand 
His glories : with a puling infant's force 
They swayM about upon a rocking-horse 
And thought it Pegasus. Ah ! dismal-soul'd 1 
The winds of heaven blew, the ocean rolPd 
Its gathering waves ; ye felt it not The blue 
Bared its eternal bosom, and the dew 
Of summer night collected still to make 
The morning precious ; Beauty was awake ! 

Why were ye not awake? 

No, they went about, 

Holding a poor decrepit standard out, 
Mark'd with most flimsy mottoes, and, in large, 
The name of one Boileau ! " 

Long before the French assault upon this ancient, 
honoured name, Keats blows the war-trumpet! Th6ophile 
Gautier himself does not treat it with greater contempt. 

It was probably the above passage, the energetic style of 
which reminds one of that picture of Kaulbach's in Munich, 



ALL-EMBRACING SENSUOUSNESS 141 

in which the artist of the rococo period is painted asleep with 
the lay-figure in his arms, which gave occasion to Byron's 
repeated thrusts at Keats as the traducer of Pope. For 
Keats never published a line against Pope ; and when 
Countess Guiccioli, in her naive work on Byron, refers to 
attacks which infuriated her lover, she is only repeating 
vague remarks she has heard. It is, however, highly pro- 
bable that Keats included Pope among those whom he 
reproached with being deaf to the music of the waves and 
the winds, and with sleeping whilst the morning unfolded 
its beauties. 

He himself was not of that company. If we examine 
the distinctive individuality of Keats's genius, we find its 
determining element to be the all-embracing sensuousness 
already alluded to. Read this stanza of the Ode to a Nightin- 
gale: — 

" O, for a draught of vintage ! that hath been 
CooFd a long age in the deep-delved earth, 
Tasting of Flora and the country green, 

Dance, and Provencal song, and sun-burnt mirth ! 
O for a beaker full of the warm South, 
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, 
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim, 
And purple-stained mouth ; 
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, 
And with thee fade away into the forest dim." 

And compare with it the following lines of Endymion : — 

" Taste these juicy pears, 

Sent me by sad Vertumnus ; 

here is cream, 

Deepening to richness from a snowy gleam ; 
Sweeter than that nurse Amalthea skimmed 
For the boy Jupiter : and here, undimmed 
By any touch, a bunch of blooming plums 
Ready to melt between an infant's gums." 

The delicate, highly developed sense of taste is accom- 
panied by an equaliy delicate and highly developed sense of 
touch and sense of smell. Read the passage in Isabella — a 
poem which, following Boccaccio, treats of the same theme 
as Hans Andersen's tale of the " Rose Fairy " — the passage 



1 42 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

which tells how the young girl took the head of her murdered 
lover from the grave : — 

u Then in a silken scarf, — sweet with the dews 
Of precious flowers pluck'd in Araby, 
And divine liquids come with odorous ooze 

Through the cold serpent pipe refreshfully, 
She wrapp'd it up." 



and the lines in Lamia, describing the reception of the guests 
who come to take part in the wedding festivities : — 

"When in an antechamber every guest 
Had felt the cold full sponge to pleasure press'd, 
By minist'ring slaves, upon his hands and feet, 
And fragrant oils with ceremony meet 
Pour'd on his hair, they all mov'd to the feast 
In white robes, and themselves in order placed 
Around the silken couches." 

In one of the Epistles occurs a line, about a swan, into 
which is compressed an incredible amount of sensuous 
imagery. It is : t( Kissing thy daily food from Naiads' pearly 
hands." 

It is unnecessary to draw the reader's attention in detail 
to all the delicate charms of these fragments. Proceeding 
to the domain of the sense of sight, we find that it pre- 
eminently is Keats' s territory, although it is never his eye 
alone which is impressed by his surroundings. Words- 
worth's poetry of nature leads us out into the open air ; 
following Keats, we enter a hot-house : a soft, moist warmth 
meets us ; our eyes are attracted by brightly coloured 
flowers and juicy fruits ; slender palms, amidst whose 
branches no rough wind ever blows, beckon gently with 
their huge fans. His Ode to Autumn is a characteristic speci- 
men of his descriptions of nature. After telling of autumn's 
conspiracy with the sun 

" to load and bless 
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run ; 
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees, 
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core ; 
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 
With a sweet kernel," 



ALL-EMBRACING SENSUOUSNESS 143 

he with a masterly hand portrays autumn as a person : 

" Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store ? 
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find 
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, 
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind : 
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep, 
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook 
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers." 

It is impossible for Keats to name any conception or 
any thought without at once proceeding to represent it in a 
corporeal, plastic form. His numerous allegories have the 
same life and fire as if they were executed in stone by the 
best Italian artists of the sixteenth century. He says of 
Melancholy : 

" She dwells with Beauty — Beauty that must die ; 
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips 
Bidding adieu" 

He says of Poetry : 

"A drainless shower 
Of light is poesy ; 'tis the supreme power ; 
Tis might half- slumti ring on its own right arm. 19 

We see the scope of Keats's poetic powers steadily in- 
creasing. His point of departure, especially in some of 
the most beautiful of his smaller poems (for example, the 
Ode to the Nightingale), is the description of a purely physical 
condition, such as weariness, nervousness, thirst, languor, 
the drowsiness produced by opium. Upon this background 
of sensitiveness the sensuous pictures rise, distinct and round, 
like the reliefs upon a shield. The word " welded " comes 
involuntarily to one's lips when one thinks of Keats's pictures. 
There is something firm and finished about them, as if they 
were welded on a metal plate. 

Observe how the figures rise gradually into relief in the 
following stanzas, the first and third of the beautiful Ode to 
Indolence : — 

" One morn before me were three figures seen 

With bowed necks and joined hands, side-faced ; 
And one behind the other stepped serene, 
In placid sandals, and in white robes graced ; 



144 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

They passed like figures on a marble urn, 
When shifted round to see the other side ; 
They came again ; as when the urn once more 
Is shifted round, the first green shades return, 
And they were strange to me, as may betide 
With vases, to one deep in Phidian lore. 

A third time passed they by, and, passing, turned 

Each one the face a moment whiles to me ; 
Then faded, and to follow them I burned 

And ached for wings, because I knew the three ; 
The first was a fair maid, and Love her name ; 

The second was Ambition, pale of cheek, 
And ever watchful, with fatigued eye ; 

The last, whom I love more, the more of blame 

Is heaped upon her, maiden most unmeek, — 
I knew to be my demon, Poesy." 

But not until he wrote the two completed books of 
Hyperion did Keats attain to absolute mastery over his 
artistic material, and realise the ideal of sensuous plasticity 
which was ever before his eyes. In this work the relief has 
been superseded by the statue ; and they are statues, these, 
which impress us with the feeling that Michael Angelo's 
chisel must have played a part in their production. Granted 
that the influence of Milton is clearly perceptible — there 
is more than Milton here. The nature of the subject 
demanded the colossal. 

We are told of the goddess Thea : 

" By her in stature the tall Amazon 
Had stood a pigmy's height ; she would have ta'en 
Achilles by the hair and bent his neck ; 
Or with a finger stay'd Ixion's wheel." 

And read this description of the cavern where the Titans 
are assembled after their fall : — 

"It was a den where no insulting light 
Could glimmer on their tears ; where their own groans 
They felt, but heard not, for the solid roar 
Of thunderous waterfalls and torrents hoarse, 
Pouring a constant bulk, uncertain where. 
Crag jutting forth to crag, and rocks that seem'd 
Ever as if just rising from a sleep, 



ALL-EMBRACING SENSUOUSNESS 145 

Forehead to forehead held their monstrous horns ; 
And thus in thousand hugest phantasies 
Made a fit roofing to this nest of woe. 
Instead of thrones, hard flint they sat upon, 
Couches of rugged stone, cind slaty ridge 
Stubborn'd with iron. All were not assembled : 
Some chain'd in torture, and some wandering. 
Coeus, and Gyges, and Briareiis, 
Typhon, and Dolor, and Porphyrion, 
With many more, the brawniest in assault, 
Were pent in regions of laborious breath ; 
Dungeon'd in opaque element, to keep 
Their clenched teeth still clench'd, and all their limbs 
Lock'd up like veins of metal, crampt and screw' d ; 
Without a motion, save of their big hearts 
Heaving in pain, and horribly convuls'd 
With sanguine feverous boiling gurge of pulse." 

Byron, who had been very severe in his criticism of 
Keats's previous works, said, and said truly, of Hyperion: 
" It seems actually inspired by the Titans, and is as sublime 
as iEschylus." 

The specimens of his poetry here quoted afford sufficient 
proof of Keats's imaginative power. It is to it, and not to 
his melodies, sweet as they are, that he owes his rank among 
English poets. 1 The purely artistic character of his verse 
makes of him the connecting link between the conservative 
and the progressive poets. He has a distinct bias in the 
direction of progress. Of this his enthusiastic friendship 
for the Radical editor of the Examiner, Leigh Hunt, is a 
striking proof. He felt what he wrote when, in his indigna- 
tion at the proceedings of the Liverpool-Castlereagh ministry, 
he exclaimed (in his poem To Hope) : 

" O, let me see our land retain her soul, 

Her pride, her freedom ; and not freedom's shade ! * 

And William Tell, Wallace, and, chief of all, Kosciuszko, 
are named again and again in his verse with the profoundest 

1 Note the melodiousness of the Fairy Song : 

" Shed no tear ! O shed no tear ! 
The flower will bloom another year. 
Weep no more ! O weep no more ! 
Young buds sleep in the root's white core," &e. 
VOL. IV. 



146 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

admiration. What he might have developed into if he had 
reached maturity, it is impossible to tell. When he wrote 
his last poems he was still but a child, ignorant of the world. 

And it must not be forgotten that while he wrote them 
he was enduring great physical suffering, and mental anxiety 
amounting to torture. Perhaps it is for this very reason 
they are so beautiful. Let the artist keep his private life 
long enough out of his work — let him, like Keats, hardly 
make any allusion in his poetry to his most absorbing 
passion — and no work will have such life, such colour, such 
divine fire as that executed whilst he not only wrought, but 
lived and suffered. Neither the precariousness of Keats's 
circumstances, nor his hopeless state of health, nor his 
passion for Fanny Brawne, set any distinct mark on his 
poetry ; but from all this poison for himself he drew nourish- 
ment for it. 

He sank into his early grave, but hardly had the earth 
closed over him before he rose again from the dead in 
Shelley's great elegy. He ceased to exist as Keats ; he was 
transformed into a myth, into Adonais, into the beloved 
of all the Muses and the elements ; and henceforward he had, 
as it were, a double existence in the consciousness of the age. 

M He lives, he wakes — 'tis Death is dead, not he ; 
Mourn not for Adonais. . . . 

He is made one with Nature. There is heard 

His voice in all her music, from the moan 
Of thunder to the song of night's sweet bird. . . . 

He is a portion of the loveliness 
Which once he made more lovely. He doth bear 

His part, while the One Spirit's plastic stress 
Sweeps through the dull dense world, compelling there 
All new successions to the forms they wear. . . . 

The inheritors of unfulfilled renown 

Rose from their thrones, built beyond mortal thought, 
Far in the unapparent. Chatterton 

Rose pale, his solemn agony had not 

Yet faded from him ; Sidney, as he fought, 
And as he fell, and as he lived and loved, 

Sublimely mild, a spirit without spot, 
Arose . 



ALL-EMBRACING SENSUOUSNESS 147 

And many more, whose names on earth are dark, 

But whose transmitted effluence cannot die 
So long as fire outlives the parent spark, 

Rose, robed in dazzling immortality. 

1 Thou art become as one of us,' they cry ; 
1 It was for thee yon kingless sphere has long 

Swung blind in unascended majesty, 
Silent alone amid an heaven of song. 
Assume thy winged throne, thou Vesper of our throng ! ' n l 

We search the history of literature in vain for a parallel 
to this elegy. It is instant transfiguration after death — a 
poetic transfiguration of a purely naturalistic and purely 
human kind. To Shelley, Keats's true apotheosis was what 
he expresses in the words : " He is made one with Nature." 

1 Shelley: Adtmais. 



XII 
THE POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 

In November 1825 Sir Walter Scott writes in his diary: "I 
saw Moore . . . There is a manly frankness and perfect 
ease and good breeding about him which is delightful. Not 
the least touch of the poet or the pedant . . . His coun- 
tenance is decidedly plain, but the expression is so very 
animated, especially in speaking or singing, that it is far more 
interesting than the finest features could have rendered it. 
I was aware that Byron had often spoken, both in private 
society and his Journal, of Moore and myself in the same 
breath, and with the same sort of regard ; so I was curious 
to see what there could be in common betwixt us, Moore 
having lived so much in the gay world, I in the country and 
with people of business, and sometimes with politicians ; 
Moore a scholar, I none ; he a musician and artist, I 
without knowledge of a note ; he a democrat, I an aris- 
tocrat — with many other points of difference ; besides his 
being an Irishman, I a Scotchman, and both tolerably 
national. Yet there is a point of resemblance, and a 
strong one. We are both good-humoured fellows, who 
rather seek to enjoy what is going forward than to 
maintain our dignity as lions ; and we have both seen 
the world too widely and too well not to contemn in our 
souls the imaginary consequence of literary people, who 
walk with their noses in the air, and remind me always 
of the fellow whom Johnson met in an alehouse, and 
who called himself 'the great Twalmley — inventor of the 
floodgate iron for smoothing linen/ ... It would be a 
delightful addition to life if T. M. had a cottage within 
two miles of one. — We went to the theatre together, and 
the house, being luckily a good one, received T. M. with 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 149 

rapture. I could have hugged them, for it paid back the 
debt of the kind reception I met with in Ireland." 

In these cordial words the great Scottish author com- 
pares himself with the Irish national poet. The resemblance 
between their position, as recognised and highly esteemed 
organs of the two dependent countries united to England, 
makes the difference between them the more clearly per- 
ceptible. There is, first of all, the dissimilarity produced by 
the dissimilar relations of Scotland and Ireland to the domi- 
nant race. Scotland's position was a subordinate one, but 
it was legally established, and the country sent repre- 
sentatives to Parliament. The Irish, on the other hand, 
divided by a much more marked difference of race, and, as 
regarded the majority, of religion, from their English masters, 
had been for six centuries under the rule of a Government 
in which they had no more share than have the Hindoos or 
the Cingalese in theirs. The Protestant Irish Parliament 
existed in its day in Ireland like a hostile garrison in a 
conquered country. It was a body of absolute rulers, 
governing and oppressing in the name of a foreign power ; 
any attempt at opposition on the part of its members was 
at once put a stop to either by bribery or force. The Irish 
Protestant was not in reality in a better position than his 
Catholic fellow-countryman ; he could purchase the favour 
of his masters only by sacrificing the interests of his country, 
and enjoyed only the one pitiful privilege of being at the 
same time vassal and master. 

It has been a fortunate thing for the English people that 
their faults as well as their virtues have ensured them suc- 
cess in the struggle for political independence and power ; 
their egoism and their pride have been of almost as much 
service to them as their sober sagacity and their energy. 
The Irish, on the other hand, seem, like the Poles, to be 
condemned both by their virtues and their vices to political 
subordination. Even making allowance for the fact that 
the character of the conquered race is invariably maligned 
in the descriptions of it given by the conqueror, it must 
be granted that the sprightliness, ardour, and charm 
of the Irish, their turbulent bravery, their fitful chivalry. 



150 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

their independent and, under certain conditions, rebellious 
tendencies, co-existing with a love of the pomp and splen- 
dour of royalty, form a bad foundation for a tranquil and 
independent existence as a state. The virtues of the Irish 
are not the modern, civic virtues, but those of an earlier age 
— their piety verges on the blindest superstition ; their 
fidelity consists, like that of their Breton brothers, in a 
kind of vassal-fealty to the old nobility of the country, and 
their splendid bravery is of an undisciplined, impetuous 
nature. Long-continued oppression has, moreover, set its 
imprint on their souls. They lack self-confidence, and 
have a tendency to dissimulation and to indolence ; they 
are too reckless of danger and too easily intimidated when 
brought face to face with it ; they cannot, when liberty is 
granted them for a short time, make a good use of it, 
this being an art which can only be learned by long 
practice. 

There are inexperienced races just as there are inex- 
perienced individuals. One side of the Irish character has 
a strong resemblance to the French (and the Irish have 
always had a warm sympathy for the French), another 
reminds us of the Polish character, and there is a third 
which is almost Oriental. In a poem entitled "The 
Parallel" (one of the Irish Melodies), which Moore com- 
posed in answer to an anti-Irish pamphlet written to 
prove that the Irish were originally Jews, he compares 
the fate of the two nations : — 

" Like thee doth our nation lie conquered and broken, 
And fall'n from her head is the once royal crown ; 
In her streets, in her halls, desolation hath spoken, 
And c while it is day yet, her sun hath gone down. ,M 

And there undoubtedly is an Oriental quality in the race. 
Byron, writing of Moore, says that the wildness, tenderness, 
and originality of the Irish — the magnificent and fiery spirit of 
the men, the beauty and feeling of the women, are the best 
proofs of the Oriental descent which they claim. A race 
with such a character necessarily fell an easy prey to a 
determined, cruel English despotism. 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 151 

A hasty glance at the history of Ireland during Thomas 
Moore's youth will help us to understand how this man 
with the gentle nature and the sweet lyric gift was the first 
to rouse English poetry from its engrossed preoccupation 
with nature, to impress it into the service of liberty, and to 
give the start to political poetry. 

Moore was born in May 1779. The years of his early 
youth were the period of the revolting events now to be 
related. From the time when the English Government 
showed, by the appointment of Lord Camden as Lord 
Lieutenant of Ireland (1795), that it had abandoned the 
humaner policy of 1782, the Society of United Irishmen, 
a powerful political organisation, which had hitherto aimed 
at the emancipation of the country by lawful means, com- 
pletely changed its character. The separation of Ireland 
from England became its aim ; it had dreams of the 
establishment of an Irish Republic. But there were two 
powerful elements of dissension in the country itself, namely, 
the existence of two races, hostile to each other, and the 
strong animosity in the lower classes between Protestants 
and Catholics. To put an end to the disturbances and 
riots which were constantly resulting from these internal 
dissensions, the Government formed a force of Protestant 
constabulary, 37,000 strong. These troops were permitted, 
under the pretence of searching for concealed weapons, 
to capture, torture, and put to death any unfortunate 
person whom an enemy, or any ruffian whatever, chose to 
accuse of suspicious behaviour. Hundreds of unoffending 
people, who were guilty of no other offence than professing 
the creed of their fathers, were flogged until they were 
insensible, or made to stand upon one foot on a pointed 
stake, or were half hanged, or had the scalp torn from their 
heads by a pitched cap. Militia and yeomanry, as well as 
the regular troops, were billeted in private houses ; and this 
billet appears to have been construed as an unlimited license 
for robbery, devastation, ravishment, and, in case of re- 
sistance, murder. It was boasted by officers of rank that 
within certain large districts no home had been left undefiled ; 
and upon its being remarked that the sex must have been 



152 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

very complying, the reply was that "the bayonet removed 
all squeamishness." * 

It was not surprising that the despair induced by such 
proceedings drove numbers of the most peaceable and 
sensible Irishmen into the arms of a secret society, which 
sent Lord Edward Fitzgerald (whose biography Moore wrote 
with such warm admiration) as its deputy to France, to 
arrange with General Hoche for the landing of a French 
army in Ireland at the time appointed for a general rising 
of the Irish rebels. Grattan, the old, passionless leader 
of the national party, refused to countenance foreign 
interference, and retired from public life in despair over 
the latest plans both of the rulers and the oppressed. The 
Irish patriots elected a governing body, a species of 
Directoire, which was negotiating with France for the loan 
of money and troops, when all its plans were discomfited 
by the treason of a single Catholic Irishman. His name, 
which deserves to be remembered, was Reynolds. Moore 
undoubtedly had this man in his mind when he wrote the 
description, in The Fire-worshippers, of the base betrayal of the 
rebel chief to the Mohammedans. * 

Lord Edward Fitzgerald was in bed when the soldiers 
forced their way into the house where he lay hidden. A 
reward of £1000 had been offered for his head. Although 
undressed, and with no weapon but a sword, he defended 
himself for a long time against three fully armed English 
officers, of whom one received three and another fourteen 
wounds ; the third disarmed him with a pistol-shot, and 
he was taken to prison. Fitzgerald was acquainted with 
the most distinguished of the French revolutionists ; he 
was a friend of Thomas Paine ; and his wife was a charming 
daughter of Philippe Egalit6. He carried on a steady 
correspondence with France ; and had he not died in 
prison, he would have been executed. It speaks well for 
Moore's courage and independent judgment, that, though 
he belonged to a circle in which Fitzgerald was regarded as 

1 Masscy : History of England, iv. 302. The whole account is founded upon 
descriptions given by English patriots. 
1 LallaRockh: The Firt-worskippers. 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 153 

a traitorous madman, he paid him all the honour due to his 
heroism. 

The rebels having thus lost their leader, the prospect 
of a general rising was at an end ; but the Government took 
the opportunity to treat persons suspected of sedition with 
a cruelty bordering on frenzy. Martial law was proclaimed, 
and those employed to administer it are described by English 
historians as " a set of ignorant, bloodthirsty ruffians, who 
first, by torture and promises of pardon, converted Catholic 
prisoners into witnesses against the accused, and then treated 
them in the most shameful manner." The first notable man 
who fell a victim to this species of justice was a peaceable 
member of the party which desired reform by lawful 
means, Sir Edward Crosbie. He was hanged, and his body 
mutilated afterwards. It was not the difference of religion 
which excited the cruel passions of these torturers, for all 
the best leaders of the United Irishmen (Fitzgerald, O'Connor, 
Harvey, Thomas Emmet) were Protestants, who unselfishly 
embraced the cause of their Catholic countrymen ; it was 
the Anglo-Saxons' old race-hatred of the Celts. 

The Government chose as its chief tool a man who was 
known to be such an ignorant, ferocious partisan that any 
degree of violence might be expected of him. This was 
Thomas Judkin Fitzgerald, a small proprietor, who in 1799 
was appointed High Sheriff. His plan of ingratiating him- 
self with his employers was to seize persons whom he chose 
to suspect, and, by dint of the lash 'and threats of instant 
death, to extort confessions of guilt and accusations of other 
persons. So abject was the terror of the peasantry who 
were abandoned to the mercy of this miscreant, that they 
fell on their knees before him. I give two examples of his 
manner of proceeding, chosen from the many which were 
made public during the lawsuit brought against him for 
having abused his authority — the result of which was, of 
course, his acquittal with honour. 

He received a poor teacher of languages (Wright by 
name), who, hearing that he was "suspected," had come 
to the court-house of his own accord, with the order to fall 
upon his knees and receive his sentence. "You are a 



154 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

rebel/' said the Sheriff, " and a principal in this rebellion. 
You are to receive five hundred lashes, and then to be shot." 
The poor man begged for time, and was so rash as to ask 
for a trial. This aroused Fitzgerald to fury, and Wright was 
hurried to the flogging-ladders. Fitzgerald himself dragged 
his fainting victim by the hair, kicked him, and slashed him 
with a sword. Fifty lashes had been inflicted, when an 
English Major came up and asked what Wright had done. 
The Sheriff answered by flinging him a note, taken from 
Wright's pocket. It was in French, a language of which 
Fitzgerald was wholly ignorant, and proved to be an excuse 
for inability to fulfil a professional engagement. Major 
Riall assured Fitzgerald that the note was perfectly harm- 
less ; nevertheless the lash continued to descend until the 
victim's entrails were visible through the flayed flesh. The 
hangman was then ordered to apply his thongs to a part of 
the body which had not yet been torn. 

This case of Wright's was one of those which created the 
greatest sensation during the proceedings against the Irish 
High Sheriff. But "the trial," says Massey, "would not 
have been complete had not an Orange parson been called 
on the part of the defendant to swear that this notorious 
bloodshedder, who throughout Ireland was called 'flogging 
Fitzgerald/ was a mild and humane man." The fact that 
the Government, contrary to the principles of the constitution, 
had given a special permission at the time of his appointment 
for the employment of torture, made it easy for him to 
triumph over all his denouncers. Addressing the jury as 
defendant, he actually boasted of having flogged several 
persons under circumstances more aggravated than those 
before the court. He mentioned one man who had cut his 
throat to escape the horrors and ignominy of torture. It 
remains to be told that Judkin Fitzgerald received a special 
pension as reward of his services, and was, after the Union, 
made a baron of the United Kingdom. 

One more specimen of the proceedings during the 
suppression of the rebellion must be given ; it furnishes an 
idea of the impressions received by Moore during the years 
when he was ripening into manhood. — « A part of the Mount 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 155 

Kennedy corps of yeomanry were, on an autumn night in the 
year 1798, patrolling the village of Delbarg, in the county of 
Wicklow. Two or three of the party, led by Whollaghan, 
one of their number, entered the cottage of a labouring man 
named Dogherty, and demanded if there were any bloody 
rebels there. The only inmates of the cabin were Dogherty's 
wife, and a sick lad, her son, who was eating his supper. 
Whollaghan asked if the boy was Dogherty's son, and, being 
told that he was — ' Then, you dog/ said Whollaghan, ' you 
are to die here.' ' I hope not,' answered the poor lad ; and 
begged, if there were any charge against him, that he might 
be tried. Whollaghan, with a volley of abuse, raised his gun 
and pulled the trigger twice, but the piece missed fire. A 
comrade then handed him another gun ; and the mother 
rushed at the muzzle to shield her son. In the struggle the 
piece went off, and the ball broke young Dogherty's arm. 
When the boy fell, the assassins left the cabin ; but Wholla- 
ghan returned, and seeing the lad supported by his mother, 
he cried out : ' Is not the dog dead yet ? ' O yes, sir,' cried 
the poor woman, ' he is dead enough.' ' For fear he is not,' 
said Whollaghan, 'let him take this.' And with deliberate 
aim he fired a fourth time, and Dogherty dropped dead out 
of his mother's arms. Whollaghan was tried for murder. 
The real defence was that the prisoner and his companions 
had been sent out with general orders from their officer to 
shoot any one they pleased. The court seem to have been 
of opinion that such orders were neither unusual nor un- 
reasonable. They found 'that the prisoner did shoot and 
kill one Thomas Dogherty, a rebel ' ; but acquitted him ' of 
any malicious or wilful intention of murder/ " 

It was by means such as these that tranquillity was 
restored in Ireland, and that its people were ripened for the 
great administrative change in which Castlereagh's cold, 
diplomatic keen-sightedness saw the one chance of escape 
from the Irish deadlock, namely, the discontinuance of the 
independent Irish Parliament which held its sessions in 
Dublin, and its incorporation with the Parliament meeting 
in London. The only opposition which required to be 
overcome was that of the Irish Parliament itself, which, 



r56 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

corrupt as it was, was not yet pliable enough. Castlereagh, 
who was Secretary of State for Ireland, and who does not 
seem in his capacity of Protestant Irishman to have had a 
particularly high opinion of his Protestant countrymen, had 
recourse to the simple expedient of purchasing one by one a 
sufficient number of the votes of the Opposition. In every 
official letter which he wrote to the Government at home 
between the beginning of 1799 and the accomplishment of 
the Union in 1800, he insisted on the necessity of bribery ; 
and he received the Government's answer in the shape of 
one million five hundred thousand pounds, of which he 
made the best possible use. In their despair, the few 
patriots in the Parliament resolved to try the only expedient 
which they thought likely to be of any avail ; they arranged 
that Grattan, who was still idolised by the nation, but who 
had long kept silence and was now dangerously ill, should 
suddenly appear in Parliament in the middle of the debate 
on the Union, The scene was arranged with the Irish love 
of dramatic effect. A vacancy having occurred a few days 
before the meeting of Parliament in the representation of 
Wicklow, an arrangement was made with Mr. Tighe, the 
patron of the borough, to return Grattan. Tighe himself 
took the return, and, riding all night, arrived in Dublin at 
five o'clock in the morning. Grattan, wasted by sickness, 
was taken out of bed, dressed, wrapped in a blanket, and 
conveyed in a sedan chair to the Parliament House. At 
seven in the morning, when the jaded House was half asleep, 
the speech of an orator named Egan was interrupted by the 
voice of the Speaker summoning a new member to the table 
to take the oaths. The House started from its slumber as 
the spectral figure of Grattan paced slowly up the floor. 
The man of 1782, the qhampion of the revolution which had 
made Ireland a nation, had come back as from the grave to 
rescue the independence of his country. He concluded his 
speech with the words : " Against such a proposition, were I 
expiring on the floor, I should beg to utter my last breath 
and record my dying testimony." When Corry, the Chan- 
cellor of the Exchequer, dared to reply to these words with 
an accusation of treason, Grattan answered with a challenge. 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 157 

A few days afterwards they fought a duel with pistols ; Corry, 
fortunately for himself, was wounded in the arm ; had he 
been the victor, he would undoubtedly have been torn in 
pieces by the mob. 

But even Grattan was powerless against the weapons 
employed by the Government. The eloquence, the brilliancy 
and solidity of which were compared by Moore to those of a 
precious gem, and which Byron declared to be superior to 
that of Demosthenes, found no echo. 1 The day the Union 
was decided on, the galleries were crowded with an anxious, 
excited audience. But Castlereagh, who felt assured of suc- 
cess, awaited the result with a smile on his lips. When the 
time for voting came, the Speaker, dwelling on the words, 
said : " All who desire the Union hold up their hands ! " 
Member after member slowly and shamefacedly raised his 
hand. For a moment the Speaker stood as still as a 
statue ; then crying : " The Union is carried ! " he threw 
himself on his chair with a gesture of disgust and anger. 
During this stormy debate, in the course of which the 
most notable Irishmen of the day proclaimed opposition 
and rebellion at the present juncture to be a duty — none 
of them, however, with any intention of carrying their 
principles into action — there sat in one of the galleries a 
youth with a pale face and sparkling eyes, who meant all 
that the others only said, and swore in his heart that he 
would be the liberator of his country. This young man 
was Ireland's best and noblest son, Robert Emmet, the 
friend who, in all probability, inspired Thomas Moore with 
most of the force and fire to be found in the enchanting 
Irish Melodies. 

1 " An eloquence rich, wheresoever its wave 

Wander'd free and triumphant, with thoughts that shone through, 
As clear as the brook's ' stone of lustre/ and gave, 
With the flash of the gem, its solidity too." 

—Moore : Shall the Harp be silent. 

" Ever glorious Grattan ! the best of the good ! 
So simple in heart, so sublime in the rest ! 
With all which Demosthenes wanted endued, 
And his rival or victor in all he possessed." 

—Byron: The Irish Avatar. 



158 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

The notable Irish poet who came into the world in the 
same year as our Danish poet, Oehlenschlager, was the son 
of a Dublin wine-merchant. He had a good father and an 
affectionate, capable mother, and spent a happy childhood 
in the bosom of his family. He very early showed himself 
to be an unusually clever and talented boy ; he acted, wrote 
and recited poetry, and sang with a peculiarly sweet voice, 
which he retained all his life. In reading his own account 
of his boyhood, we observe how early his peculiar poetic 
gift, which was that of the improvisatore and singer, the 
lyrist proper, reveals itself. He possessed the same talent 
which distinguished Bellmann, the Swede, that of fusing 
words and music together into a whole ; and along with 
this, he had the actor's and singer's power of moving by 
his interpretation. He was short, considerably under 
middle height ; his brown hair curled close to his head, 
and in his childhood he resembled a little Cupid. His 
forehead was large and radiant, so interesting that it must 
have been the delight of phrenologists. He had beautiful, 
dark eyes — the kind of eyes, says Leigh Hunt, which we 
think of surmounted by a wreath of vine leaves — a refined, 
merry mouth, a dimpled chin, a sensual nose, slightly 
turned up, as if it were inhaling the fragrance of a feast 
or an orchard. The little man as a whole produced an 
impression of vitality and energy ; he was of the stuff 
to have made a fiery raider of the old Irish type ; he was 
always high-spirited, and in his younger days so quick- 
tempered that he challenged Jeffrey on account of the 
latter's first review of his poetry, and afterwards Byron 
for jeering (in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers) at the 
bloodless endeavour at a duel which was the result of the 
first challenge. 

In spite, however, of this martial element in his dis- 
position, it is highly probable that Moore, if he had lived at 
a less critical, distressing period, and had not come into 
personal contact with tyranny and oppression, would never 
have risen to a higher rank as poet than that of the sweet 
Anacreontic singer. His temperament inclined him in this 
direction. But it was vouchsafed to him to do more for his 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 159 

country than ever man had done for it before, more even 
than Burns had done for Scotland, namely, to knit its name, 
its memories, its sufferings, the shameful injustice done it, 
and the most admirable qualities of its sons and daughters, 
to imperishable poetry and music. 

At the early age of fifteen Moore was entered as a 
student at the University of Dublin. The political leaven 
which was beginning to leaven the whole of Ireland had 
penetrated the walls of the University. A young man, des- 
tined to a great and tragic fate, was attracting the attention 
both of his fellow-students and the professors. This was the 
Robert Emmet already alluded to, a youth of singular purity 
of character, who at the age of sixteen was already a dis- 
tinguished student of mathematics and physics, and a political 
orator of the first rank. His speeches at the meetings of 
the " Historical Society," and the deep impression made by 
them on Moore, a lad of his own age, but of a much 
weaker and less developed character, have already been 
mentioned. Although he had been warned against allowing 
himself to be seen in the streets with Emmet, Moore was 
soon connected with him by the ties of warm admiration 
and close friendship. And little wonder ! It was the Irish 
national hero whom the Irish poet had met, in the springtide 
of their youth. Neither of them had any prevision of the 
other's future greatness, but the instinct which unites har- 
monious minds kept them together long enough for the poet 
to receive his consecration from the hero. " Were I to 
number," says Moore, "the men among all I have ever 
known, who appeared to me to combine in the greatest 
degree pure moral worth with intellectual power, I should, 
among the highest of the few, place Robert Emmet." l 

Robert Emmet was born in 1 780. His elder brother,Thomas, 
was one of the leaders of the rebellion of 1798, and, after its 
failure, was first imprisoned and then banished. Robert's 
earliest emotions were hatred of English tyranny and love of 
the Irish martyrs. Even as a boy he displayed a strength of 
character which foreshadowed the greatness of soul that he 
displayed as a man. At the age of twelve he was already 

1 Thomas Moore : Memoirs of Lord Edward FitngeralcL 



160 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

absorbed in the study of mathematics and chemistry. 1 One 
day, immediately after making a chemical experiment, he sat 
down to solve a difficult mathematical problem, and, absently 
putting his hand to his mouth, poisoned himself with a cor- 
rosive sublimate which he had been handling a few moments 
before. The violent pains which he immediately felt, in- 
formed him of his danger. The fear of being forbidden to 
make such dangerous experiments in future led him to sup- 
press anything of the nature of a cry. He went downstairs 
to his father's library, looked up the article on " Poison " in 
an encyclopaedia, and found that chalk was recommended as 
an antidote in such cases as his. Remembering that he had 
seen a piece of chalk in the coach-house, he went there, 
broke open the door, which was locked, found the chalk, 
prepared and drank a solution of it, and returned to his 
mathematical problem. He appeared at breakfast next 
morning with a face so altered that it was hardly recog- 
nisable, and then confessed to his tutor that he had suffered 
excruciating tortures during the night, but added that one 
good result of his sleeplessness was that he had solved his 
problem. 

A boy with courage and composure of this quality was 
sure to grow into a man with a powerful influence over 
others. 

One of those whom Emmet influenced most strongly 
was Thomas Moore. The simplicity of appearance and 
manner which, in combination with the most delicate con- 
sideration for others, distinguished the young politician, 
changed, when the spring was touched that set his feelings, 
and through them, his intellect in motion, into an air of in- 
tellectual nobility and superiority which enchained the sym- 
pathy of the poet to be. "No two individuals," writes 
Moore, " could be much more unlike to each other, than was 
the same youth to himself, before rising to speak, and after ; 
— the brow that had appeared inanimate, and almost droop- 
ing, at once elevating itself to all the consciousness of power, 
and the whole countenance and figure of the speaker 
assuming a change as of one suddenly inspired. Of his 

i Madden : The United Iriskmen % Their Lives and Times* 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 161 

oratory, it must be recollected, I speak after youthful im- 
pressions ; but I have heard little, since, that appeared to me 
of a loftier or purer character." Moore further asserts that 
Emmet's influence over his surroundings was due quite as 
much to the blamelessness of his life and the grave suavity 
of his manners as to his scientific attainments and his 
eloquence. 

In 1797 a newspaper named The Press was started by 
the brothers Emmet, O'Connor, and other Irish popular 
leaders ; and Moore was not a little eager to see something of 
his own in its patriotic and widely-read columns. But his 
mother's constant anxiety about him made him fearful of 
hazarding anything that might agitate her, so he resolved to 
write anonymously, at any rate to begin with. He sent in 
an imitation of Ossian, which was printed, but excited no 
attention. Then, with trembling hand, he entrusted to the 
post a Letter to the Students of Trinity College, which, as he 
himself observes, was richly seasoned with treason ; it was a 
witty satire on Castlereagh, who, as long as he lived, was the 
butt of Moore's wit. 

11 1 hardly expected," writes Moore, " thattt would make 
its appearance ; but, lo and behold, on the next evening of 
publication, when seated, as usual, in my little corner by the 
fire, I unfolded the paper for the purpose of reading it to my 
father and mother, there was my own letter staring me full 
in the face, occupying a conspicuous station in the paper, 
and, of course, one of the first and principal things that my 
auditors wished to hear." Overcoming his emotion, he read 
the letter aloud, and had the gratification of hearing it much 
praised by his parents, who, however, pronounced both 
language and sentiments to be " very bold." On the follow- 
ing day, Edward Hudson, the only friend entrusted with the 
secret, paid a morning call, and had not been long in the 
room conversing with Mrs. Moore, when he looked signifi- 
cantly at Tom and remarked : " Well, you saw ." " That 

letter was yours, then, Tom ? " cried the mother ; and new 
entreaties to be cautious followed on Tom's confession. 

11 A few days after," writes Moore, u in the course of one 
of those strolls into the country which Emmet and I used 

VOL. IV. L 



1 62 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

often to take together, our conversation turned upon this 
letter, and I gave him to understand that it was mine ; when 
with that almost feminine gentleness of manner which he 
possessed, and which is so often found in such determined 
spirits, he owned to me that on reading the letter, though 
pleased with its contents, he could not help regretting that 
the public attention had thus been called to the politics of 
the University, as it might have the effect of awakening the 
vigilance of the college authorities, and frustrate the progress 
of the good work (as we both considered it) which was going 
on there so quietly. Even then, boyish as my own mind 
was, I could not help being struck with the manliness of the 
view which I saw he took of what men ought to do in such 
times and circumstances, namely, not to talk or write about 
their intentions, but to act. He had never before, I think, in 
conversation with me, alluded to the existence of the United 
Irish societies, in college, nor did he now, or at any subse- 
quent time, make any proposition to me to join in them, a 
forbearance which I attribute a good deal to his knowledge 
of the watchful anxiety about me which prevailed at home. 
... He was altogether a noble fellow, and as full of 
imagination and tenderness of heart as of manly daring." 

It is plain enough that Robert Emmet, though he was 
sincerely attached to Moore, felt that he was not of the stuff 
of which a man must be made who is to stake his future and 
his life on the success of a rebellion. But he had a high 
opinion of the young poet, and often sought his society ; he 
was doubtless conscious of the resonance of his own ideas 
and dreams in the harp of Moore's soul. He used frequently 
to sit by him at the pianoforte whilst he played over the airs 
from Bunting's Irish collection ; and Moore as an old man 
still remembered how one day, when he was playing the 
spirited air, " Let Erin remember the day I " Emmet ex- 
claimed passionately : " Oh that I were at the head of twenty 
thousand men marching to that air I " 

This was in 1797, shortly before the discovery of the 
great Irish conspiracy. The discovery came, with all its atten- 
dant horrors. One of its first results was a regular court of 
inquisition, held within the walls of the University. The 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 163 

roll was called, and the students were examined one by one. 
Most of them knew little or nothing about the plot, but there 
were a few, among them Robert Emmet, whose absence 
revealed to their comrades how much they had known of 
the betrayed and defeated plans. The dead silence which 
followed the daily calling out of their names made a pro- 
found impression on Moore. He himself proved at this trial 
what a high-spirited little fellow he was ; he told the 
dreaded Lord Fitzgibbon to his face that, in taking the oath 
demanded of him, he reserved to himself the power of refus- 
ing to answer any question calculated to get a comrade into 
trouble ; and he bore with manly composure the outburst of 
anger which followed. As he was not a member of the 
Society of United Irishmen, and had evidently no knowledge 
of their plans, he was dismissed at once. 

It was during the years immediately following this inci- 
dent that Moore began to appear before the public as a 
poet. The horrors attendant on the suppression of the 
rebellion did not provide him with any of his themes ; they 
were still too near. Emmet was away, and his influence 
in abeyance ; and, indeed, political poetry was for the 
moment an impossibility in Ireland. So the young poet, 
whose temperament naturally inclined him in the direction 
of light, sprightly verse, followed the course prescribed by his 
tastes and his age. He prepared an English version of the 
Odes of Anacreon, which he published before he was twenty, 
with a dedication to the Prince Regent, who was at that 
time the hope of the Liberals; and in 1801 he published, 
under the title of Poetical Works of the late Thomas Little, Esq., 
a volume of poems, for the most part of an erotic, youth- 
fully sensuous, and slightly licentious character. The Irish 
licentiousness reminds one of that which is not at all un- 
common in Swedish erotic poetry ; it has also, like the 
Swedish, a national stamp. 

After leading a tolerably aimless existence for a year or 
two in London, where his talents and his Irish charm of 
manner made him a favourite in the best society, Moore was 
obliged by his poverty to go as Admiralty Registrar (a post 
procured for him by Lord Moira) to the Bermudas. It was, 



1 64 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

as one can easily imagine, an appointment very unsuited 
to his tastes, and after a short time he entrusted his duties to 
a deputy, made a tour in America, and returned to England. 
The deputy, in course of time, embezzled a considerable sum 
of Government money, and thus Moore, like Scott, became 
responsible for the payment of a heavy debt. He also, like 
Scott, received numerous offers of assistance ; and he dis- 
charged his liabilities, partly with the assistance of wealthy 
friends, partly by his own industry and strict economy for 
several years. His tour in America lasted from October 
1803 to November 1804. He brought home with him the 
American Epistles, and poems which are to be found in the 
second volume of his works, and which contain descriptions 
of nature as remarkable for their correctness as for their 
wealth of glowing colour. With his genuine English 
Naturalism, he was, however, more anxious to be truthful 
than to be brilliant, and was very proud of the many testi- 
monies he received both from natives and travellers as to the 
correct impression he conveyed of country and people. The 
well-known English traveller, Captain Basil Hall (who visited 
Scott at Abbotsford and who, when ill in Venice, was taken 
care of by Byron), asserts that Moore's Odes and Epistles 
give the most beautiful and correct description of Bermuda 
that is to be found ; and he draws attention to the fact that 
both the words and tune of the prettiest of the songs, the 
" Canadian Boat Song," are close imitations of what one 
actually hears in the boats out there, the poet having, how- 
ever, rejected whatever was neither beautiful nor characteris- 
tic. Moore himself tells how exactly he kept to reality in his 
descriptions of landscapes and even trees. Referring to the 
lines : 

" Twas thus, by the shade of a calabash-tree, 
With a few who could love and remember like me," 

he relates how, twenty-five years after writing them, he received 
from Bermuda a cup made from a shell of the fruit of the 
identical calabash tree alluded to, on the bark of which his 
name had been found inscribed. The unaccustomed natural 
surroundings of these regions had a fecundating effect on the 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 165 

mind of a young poet who was susceptible to luxurious, 
festal impressions. The democratic and republican institu- 
tions of the United States were much less to the taste of the 
refined writer on whom the general reaction against the 
eighteenth century, which was now beginning, was already 
producing its effect. His Epistles on the state of society in 
America prove that he was alive only to the defects of 
the Republic. He had an audience of the President ; 
but we perceive that Jefferson's slovenly dress — slippers and 
blue stockings formed part of it — gave the young poet an 
unfavourable impression of the man who had drawn up the 
Declaration of Independence. What shocked him more than 
anything else in America was to find French philosophy, 
which he, the true child of his day, regarded as sinful and 
poisonous, so widely spread throughout the young republic. 1 
He referred many years afterwards to this time as being 
the one period during which he had felt doubtful of the 
wisdom of the liberal political faith in which he might almost 
literally be said to have begun his life, and in which he 
expected to end it. 

It almost seemed, for a moment, as if the impressions 
received by the poet in his oppressed native island during his 
childhood and youth were extinct, dead and buried under 
Anacreontic sentiments, reminiscences of travel, and the 
pleasures of life as lived in the most fashionable and frivolous 
circles of London society. But in 1807 appeared the first 
Number of the Irish Melodies, the work which is Moore's 
title-deed to immortality. Everything that his unfortunate 
country had felt and suffered during the long years of her 
ignominy — her agonies and sighs, her ardent struggles, her 
martial spirit, the smile shining through her tears — we have 
them all here, scattered about in songs which are written in 
a mood of half-gay, half-mournful levity and amorousness. 

1 " Already has the child of Gallia's school, 
The foul Philosophy that sins by rule, 
With all her train of reasoning, damning arts, 
. Begot by brilliant heads or worthless hearts — 
* Already has she poured her poison here 
' O'er every charm that makes existence dear." 

—EjdstU to Lord Viscount Forks. 



166 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

It was a wreath this, woven of grief, enthusiasm, and tender- 
ness, a fragrant wreath, such as one binds in honour of the 
dead, which Moore placed on his country's brow. Not that 
Ireland is often mentioned ; there are as few names as possible 
in these poems — it was not safe to print Irish names. But 
now the singer would celebrate his mistress in such terms 
that no one could fail to recognise her as Erin, now the 
dearly beloved would speak with a majesty which showed 
her to be no mortal woman ; and, as in the old Christian 
allegorical hymns, the mysticism increased the poetic 
effect. 

What had happened in the interval between the appear- 
ance of Moore's wanton, frivolous poetry and the conception 
of these wonderful songs ? They themselves answer the 
question by suppressing the answer. The fourth Melody 
begins : 

" Oh, breathe not his name, let it sleep in the shade, 
Where cold and unhonoured his relics are laid : 
Sad, silent, and dark be the tears that we shed, 
As the night-dew that falls on the grass o'er his head ! " 

There was, then, one whose name might not be named, 
whose body lay dishonoured in a grave where it might be 
wept over only in the darkness of night. 

In the next song, again without any mention of a name, 
we read : 

" When he who adores thee has left but the name 

Of his fault and his sorrows behind, 
Oh I say, wilt thou weep when they darken the fame 

Of a life that for thee was resigned ? 
Yes, weep, and however my foes may condemn, 

Thy tears shall efface their decree ; 
For Heaven can witness, though guilty to them, 

I have been but too faithful to thee I " 

That the beloved of these lines is Ireland, we can see at the 
first glance ; but once more a dark veil of anonymity is cast 
over the man whose reputation was destroyed by his enemies, 
but who, though declared guilty by them, had been so faithful 
to the object of his worship. 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 167 

Let the reader turn over a few pages, and he will come 
upon a poem which is closely connected with the two just 
quoted. It is a sweet, sad portrait of the betrothed of the 
anonymous dead hero. 

" She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps, 
And lovers around her are sighing ; 
But coldly she turns from their gaze, and weeps, 
For her heart in his grave is lying. 

She sings the wild songs of her dear native plains, 

Every note that he loved awaking. — 
Ah I little they think, who delight in her strains, 

How the heart of the Minstrel is breaking ! 

He had lived for her love, for his country he died, 
They were all that to life had entwined him ; 

Nor soon shall the tears of his country be dried, 
Nor long will his love stay behind him. 

Oh ! make her a grave where the sunbeams rest, 

When they promise a glorious morrow ; 
They'll shine o'er her sleep, like a smile from the West, 

From her own loved Island of Sorrow I" 

The reader has already divined that the young hero of these 
touching laments is no other than Moore's old college friend, 
Robert Emmet. It was undoubtedly this young man's tragic 
fate which inspired the finest of the songs of freedom con- 
tained in the Irish Melodies. 

Robert's elder brother suffered a term of imprisonment 
after the revolution of 1798, and was then banished; 
Robert himself escaped imprisonment, and continued to 
employ his liberty in the service of the cause which had 
cost his brother so much, and was to cost his own life. In 
1802 he went to Paris, and had an interview with the First 
Consul, who appeared to him " to care as little for Ireland 
as he did for the republic or for liberty," and several with 
Talleyrand, whom he considered no more satisfactory, for 
the purpose of making arrangements for the proclamation 
of an independent Irish Republic, supported by an alliance 
with the French Republic. The moment was an opportune 
one, for the friendly relations which had been re-established 



1 68 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

for a short time between France and England by the Peace 
of Amiens were on the point of giving way to renewed 
hostility. Bonaparte seems actually to have for a moment 
contemplated a landing in Ireland (he lamented at St. Helena 
that he had not gone to Ireland instead of to Egypt), and 
Robert Emmet returned in November 1802 to his native 
island with a distinct promise from the French authorities 
that the landing of their army should take place in August 
1 803. With untiring audacity he prepared for a new rebellion 
throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. He was 
persuaded that that of 1798 had failed because it had not 
had sufficient support in the capital. His great aim, there- 
fore, was to get possession of Dublin, and more particularly 
of the Castle, the gates of which stood open till late in the 
evening. Day and night he superintended the preparations 
of the conspirators. In different parts of the town they 
rented a number of houses, where they established secret 
manufactories of weapons and ammunition. Emmet had a 
staff of fifteen men, almost all of the lower class, to assist 
him in the task of superintendence. Such rest as he granted 
himself was taken lying on a mattress on the floor of one of 
the powder-magazines. 

Although more than a thousand persons were concerned in 
the conspiracy, there was not one traitor among them, and the 
merciless Government had not the slightest idea of what was 
impending. Emmet's private fortune was entirely expended 
on the necessary preparations, although the men who served 
him received no payment for their work. One of them, 
conversing many years afterwards with the author of The 
United Irishmen, told him that they worked, not for money, 
but for the cause ; that they had perfect confidence in 
Robert Emmet, and would have given their lives for him. 
But in the month of July an accident occurred ; one of the 
powder-magazines blew up, killing two men, one of whom 
died in Emmet's arms. The following day a Protestant 
newspaper informed the Government that it was sleeping on 
a mine. 

There could now be no question of waiting for the 
French ; half-prepared as the conspirators were, they had 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 169 

either to make their attempt at once or accept the certainty 
of annihilation without a struggle. On the morning of the 
23rd of July a manly proclamation to the people of Ireland, 
drawn up by Emmet himself, was discovered posted up in 
the streets of Dublin. But when evening came, and Emmet 
attempted the surprise of the Castle, he proved to his sorrow 
how unreliable his countrymen were at a dangerous and 
decisive crisis. The number of his followers steadily 
diminished as they approached the Castle, and by the time 
its gates were reached it was clear that any attack which the 
mere handful of faithful enthusiasts left, could make on the 
now alert and well-armed enemy was doomed to defeat. In 
the first confusion the rebel leaders succeeded in escaping 
to the hills of Wicklow, where they were able to hold a 
council the following day. Most of them were certain that 
their cause was anything but a lost one ; let them but give 
the signal, and the whole of Ireland would rise like one man, 
&c, &c. Robert Emmet alone had lost all his illusions. 
He succeeded in convincing his friends that to continue 
their endeavours at this juncture, and without other forces 
than the undisciplined rebels who alone were at their service, 
would lead to nothing but more shedding of the blood of a 
people who had already suffered so much. At the moment 
of parting, all the others entreated Emmet to take advantage 
of an opportunity which presented itself of escaping from 
the country at once in a fishing-boat belonging to one of 
the rebels. But, with a slight confusion of manner, he told 
them that he could not possibly leave Ireland for an unlimited 
number of years without first returning to Dublin to take 
leave of a lady, who was so dear to him that he must see 
her again if he " had to die for it a thousand times." 

In Dublin the military were on his heels. His faithful 
housekeeper, a young, brave girl, was covered with bayonet 
pricks and underwent " half-hanging " ; but nothing would 
induce her to betray her master's hiding-place. At last he 
was found and arrested, a pistol-shot in the shoulder pre- 
venting any attempt at escape. When the officer who 
arrested him was making an excuse for this shot, the 
prisoner said shortly: "All is fair in war." 



170 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

A few days after his imprisonment, Robert Emmet wrote 
to the young lady for whose sake he had risked his life. 
This was Miss Sarah Curran, a daughter of the eminent 
and highly respected barrister, John Philpot Curran, who is 
so often named in Byron's poetry, and who had been the 
eloquent, undaunted defender of the political prisoners tried 
after the rebellion of 1798. Young Emmet had been a 
welcome visitor at Curran's house ; but when Curran dis- 
covered the attachment between the two young people, he 
separated them, as he feared that Emmet's political opinions 
augured ill for his future ; and the correspondence between 
them had been carried on without his knowledge. The jailer 
demanded a large sum from Emmet for conveying his letter to 
its address, and then took it straight to the Attorney-General. 
Fearing possible injurious consequences to the lady whom he 
loved, Emmet at once wrote to his judges, and, knowing 
that his eloquence was dreaded, offered to plead guilty and 
not say one word in his own defence if, in return, they 
would make no reference, in the hearing of the case, to his 
letter to Miss Curran. The offer was made in vain. The 
very next day, the arrival of the police to search his house 
informed the furious Curran of the relations between his 
daughter and Emmet. 

Of the result of the trial no one had any doubt ; the 
accused knew his fate. When the governor of the prison 
came upon him one day plaiting a lock of hair which Miss 
Curran had given him, he looked up and said : " I am pre- 
paring it to take with me to the scaffold." On his table 
was found a carefully executed pen and ink drawing — 
an excellent portrait of himself, the head severed from 
the body. 

The trial began at 10 A.M. After the Attorney-General 
had made a speech, in which he affirmed that the only 
results of the conspiracy had been to elicit stronger proofs 
than had before existed of the attachment of Ireland to its 
King, Robert Emmet requested that, as his only answer, 
the following paragraph from the proclamation of the pro- 
visional government, as drawn up by him, might be read 
aloud: "From this time onward flogging and torture are 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 171 

forbidden in Ireland, and may not be reintroduced on any 
pretext whatever." Hereupon followed a speech by a hate- 
ful Irish renegade, Mr. Plunket, who had formerly belonged 
to the party of rebellion, but who now, as King's Counsel, 
overwhelmed Emmet with abuse. Then Emmet himself 
stood up, and, with the prospect of certain and almost 
immediate death before his eyes, defended himself in a 
speech with which every Irishman to this day is familiar. 
He began by saying that if he were to suffer only death 
after being adjudged guilty, he should bow in silence to his 
fate ; but the sentence which delivered his body to the 
executioner also consigned his character to obloquy, and 
therefore he must speak. The judge roughly interrupting 
him in the middle of his speech, he calmly said : " I have 
understood, my Lord, that judges sometimes think it their 
duty to hear with patience, and to speak with humanity," 
and continued his speech in such a loud voice as to be 
distinctly heard at the outer doors of the court-house ; and 
yet, though he spoke in a loud tone, there was nothing 
boisterous in his manner. Those who heard him declare, 
says Madden, that his accents and cadence of voice were 
exquisitely modulated. He moved about the dock as he 
warmed in his address, with characteristic, rapid, and not 
ungraceful motions. Even after the lapse of thirty years, the 
witnesses of the scene could not speak without emotion of 
the graceful majesty with which he defied his judges. A 
correspondent li the Times, who unconditionally condemned 
the rebellion, wrote of Emmet as follows: "But as to 
Robert Emmet individually, it will surely be admitted that 
even in the midst of error he was great ; and that the burst 
of eloquence with which, upon the day of his trial, with the 
grave already open to receive him, he shook the very court 
wherein he stood, and caused not only ' that viper whom 
his father nourished' (Mr. Plunket) to quail beneath the 
lash, but likewise forced that ' remnant of humanity ' (Lord 
Norbury, who tried him), to tremble on the judgment seat, 
was an effort almost superhuman." 

Emmet ended with these words: "My lord, you are 
impatient for the sacrifice. The blood which you seek is 



172 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

not congealed by the artificial terrors which surround your 
victim — it circulates warmly and unruffled through its 
channels, and in a little time it will cry to heaven. Be 
patient ! I have but a few words to say — I am going to my 
cold and silent grave — my lamp of life is nearly extinguished 
— I have parted with everything that was dear to me in this 
life, and for my country's cause with the idol of my soul, 
the object of my affections. My race is run — the grave 
opens to receive me, and I sink into its bosom. I have but 
one request to ask at my departure from this world — it is 
the charity of its silence. Let no man write my epitaph ; for 
as no man who knows my motives dare now vindicate them, 
let not prejudice or ignorance asperse them. Let them rest 
in obscurity and peace, my memory be left in oblivion, and 
my tomb remain uninscribed, until other times and other 
men can do justice to my character. When my country 
takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and 
not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done." 

The sentence was pronounced. Robert Emmet was, 
on the following day, first to be hanged, and then beheaded. 
When the prisoner was removed from the dock it was about 
ten o'clock at night. As he passed the grating of a cell in 
which a friend was confined, he called to him : " I shall be 
hanged to-morrow." He was allowed no peace during his 
last hours. The Government became alarmed lest an at- 
tempt might be made to rescue him, and an order was sent 
to convey him to Kilmainham jail, two miles and a half 
away. Not till he reached there did a humane jailer take 
off the irons which had been put on so roughly that they 
had drawn blood. The same man gave him something to 
eat, no food having been provided for him since before the 
trial began, at ten in the morning. Emmet then slept 
soundly for a short time. On awaking he employed the 
time left him in writing letters to his brother in America, to 
Miss Curran's brother, and to herself. He was interrupted 
by a friend, who came to bid him farewell. Emmet's first 
inquiry was after his mother, and his friend was obliged to 
tell him that she had died the day before of grief. She had 
borne with fortitude the banishment of one of her sons for 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 173 

his devotion to the cause of Ireland, and she had encouraged 
Robert in all his proceedings ; but when she knew that he, 
the pride of her heart, was doomed, in his twenty-third year, 
to such a terrible death, her heart broke. Robert received 
the news composedly, and said, after a silence of some 
moments : " It is better so." In his letter to young Curran 
he wrote : " I did not look to honours for myself — praise I 
would have asked from the lips of no man ; but I would 
have wished to read in the glow of Sarah's countenance that 
her husband was respected." His writing in this letter is as 
firm and regular as usual. 

At one o'clock, escorted by the sheriffs and followed by 
the executioner, he was led to the scaffold. So great was 
the power of his gentleness and charm over wild, rude 
natures, that one of the warders burst into tears at parting 
from him. Emmet, whose arms were bound, bent forward 
and kissed the man on the cheek ; and the jailer, whom 
twenty years of service had hardened, and inured to prison 
scenes, fell senseless at his prisoner's feet. Before mounting 
the scaffold Emmet entrusted to one of his friends the letter 
which he had written to Miss Curran ; but the friend was 
arrested and imprisoned, and this letter, like the other, did 
not reach its destination. Emmet took off his neckerchief 
himself, and assisted in adjusting the rope round his neck. 
After his head was struck from the body the executioner 
held it up to the crowd, proclaiming in a loud voice : " This 
is the head of a traitor, Robert Emmet I " Not a sound was 
heard in answer. 

Next day the readers of the London Chronicle, the Govern- 
ment organ, were told: "He behaved without the least 
symptom of fear, and with all the effrontery and non- 
chalance which so much distinguished his conduct on his 
trial yesterday. He seems to scoff at the dreadful circum- 
stances attending on him, at the same time, with all the 
coolness and complacency that can be possibly imagined, 
though utterly unlike the calmness of Christian fortitude. 
Even as it was, I never saw a man die like him ; and God 
forbid I should see many with his principles. . . . The 
clergyman who attended him endeavoured to win him from 



174 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

his deistical opinions. He thanked him for his exertions, 
but said that his opinions on such subjects had long been 
settled, and that this was not the time to change them." 
Thus spoke the official press. Oppressed Ireland kept 
silence at the scaffold of her young hero, and, faithful to his 
wish, carved no epitaph on his tomb. 

But when Moore's Irish Melodies appeared, it was as if 
the grief and wrath of a whole nation had suddenly found 
expression ; in these songs it rose and fell, whispered and 
shouted, moaned and murmured, like the waves of the sea, 
and with the irresistible force of a natural element. Soon 
there was not a peasant in Ireland, as there is not one to- 
day, unfamiliar with the song : " When he who adores thee." 
To this day Robert Emmet's last speech is read in American 
schools. It is the gospel of the Irish struggle for indepen- 
dence. But, strangely enough, Emmet's heroic death con- 
tributed less to his fame among his countrymen than did 
his touching love story. His betrothed, regarded by the 
Irish people as their hero's widow, became the object of 
silent veneration. Her unhappiness was increased by her 
being obliged to live amongst people who sided with England, 
and who considered, much as they pitied him, that Emmet 
had deserved his fate. Some years after Emmet's death 
Miss Curran made the acquaintance of an English officer, 
a Captain Sturgeon, who, touched by her forlorn position 
and attracted by her many charms, offered her his hand. 
After long hesitation she married him. As she was be- 
ginning to show symptoms of decline, he took her to Italy. 
Her appearance, says Admiral Napier, who saw her at 
Naples, was that of " a wandering statue." She died, not 
long after her marriage, in Sicily, " far from the land where 
her young hero sleeps." Washington Irving has described 
her in his Sketch Book, in the beautiful tale called " The 
Broken Heart." But her most worthy monument is the 
song : " She is far from the land." l 

In the Melodies, however, the griefs of the individual are 
but a symbol of those of the nation, an embodiment of the 

1 Madden: United Irishmen. — lfybert Emmet: anonymous, but known to be 
written by Madame d'Haussonville. 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 175 

universal suffering. We come upon songs in which we 
seem to hear all the sons and daughters of Ireland lament- 
ing over the fruitlessness of the great French Revolution 
and the disappointment of the hopes which all nations, but 
theirs above all others, had set upon the stability and victory 
of the Republic. Such a song is the touching : 

" 'Tis gone, and for ever, the light we saw breaking" ; 

with its wild lament that the first ray of liberty, welcomed 
with blessings by man, has disappeared, and by its dis- 
appearance deepened the darkness of the night of bondage 
and mourning which has again closed in over the kingdoms 
of the earth, and darkest of all over Erin. Truly noble and 
lofty is the flight of this verse : 

" For high was thy hope, when those glories were darting 
Around thee, through all the gross clouds of the world ; 
When Truth, from her fetters indignantly starting, 

At once, like a sunburst, her banner unfurled. 
Oh, never shall earth see a moment so splendid 1 
Then, then, had one Hymn of Deliverance blended 
The tongues of all nations ; how sweet had ascended 
The first note of Liberty, Erin, from thee ! " 

And the poem ends with maledictions on the " light race, 
unworthy its good," who " like furies caressing the young 
hope of freedom, baptized it in blood." Other poems are of 
a more threatening nature, although the threat is always 
poetic and half-concealed. Read, for example, the song, 
u Lay his sword by his side." 

" Lay his sword by his side, — it hath served him too well 
Not to rest near his pillow below ; 
To the last moment true, from his hand ere it fell, 
Its point was still turn'd to a flying foe. 



Yet pause— for, in fancy, a still voice I hear, 

And it cries, from the grave where the hero lies deep, 
' Tho' the day of your Chieftain for ever hath set, 

( Oh, leave not his sword thus inglorious to sleep, — 
1 It hath victory's life in it yet \ in ' 



176 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

The poem which is directly aimed at the Prince Regent 
is the most severe and most high-toned of them all. It 
is the one which begins : " When first I met thee, warm 
and young." The Prince's name is not mentioned, 
but the verses can only be understood when it is known 
that it is to him they refer. Erin, speaking as a woman, 
describes her belief in him, her faith in the promises he 
made when " young and warm," and her continued reliance 
on him even when she saw him change. When she heard 
of his follies, she persisted in discovering, even in his faults, 
" some gleams of future glory." But now that the attractive 
qualities of youth have departed, and none of the virtues of 
maturity have replaced them, now that those who once 
loved him avoid him, and even his flatterers despise him, 
Erin would not give one of her " taintless tears " for all his 
guilty splendour. And the day will come when his last 
friends will forsake him, and he will call in vain on her whom 
he has lost for ever. She will say : 

u Go — go— 'tis vain to curse, 

* Tis weakness to upbraid thee ; 
Hate cannot wish thee worse 
Than guilt and shame have made thee.* 

Wordsworth addressed declarations of love to England 
when she was victorious and great ; Scott sang the praises 
of Scotland at a time when she was beginning to take her 
place as a flourishing nation by the side of a sister kingdom ; 
but Moore addressed his heartfelt, glowing strains to a country 
which lay humiliated and bleeding at its torturers' feet. He 
writes : — 

" Remember thee ! yes, while there's life in this heart, 
It shall never forget thee, all lorn as thou art ; 
More dear in thy sorrow, thy gloom, and thy showers, 
Than the rest of the world in their sunniest hours. 

Wert thou all that I wish thee, — great, glorious, and free — 
First flower of the earth, and first gem of the sea, — 
I might hail thee with prouder, with happier brow, 
But, oh ! could I love thee more deeply than nowP " 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 177 

And in everything that Moore wrote, there is a remembrance 
of Ireland. His great Oriental poem, Lalla Rookh, which 
appeared in 1817, was prepared for by the most conscien- 
tious study. There is not an image, not a description, or 
name, or historical incident or reference, which has any con- 
nection with Europe. Everything, without exception, bears 
witness to the familiarity of the author with the life and 
nature of the East. Nevertheless we know that the subject 
did not begin to interest him until he saw a possibility of 
making the struggle between the Fire-worshippers and the 
Mohammedans a pretext for preaching tolerance in the spirit 
of the song, " Come, send round the wine," which he had 
addressed to his countrymen in the Irish Melodies. And the 
interest of the reader, too, is not really awakened until he 
begins to divine Ireland and the Irish under these Ghebers 
and their strange surroundings. Hence it is that The Fire- 
Worshippers is the only entirely successful part of the poem. 
The very names Iran and Erin melt into each other in the 
reader's ear. Moore himself says that the spirit which spoke 
in the Irish Melodies did not begin to feel at home in the 
East till he set it to work on the Fire-Worshippers ; and the 
beautiful poem, whose hero is a noble and unfortunate rebel, 
and whose heroine lives amongst people who speak of her 
lover with detestation, might well have been inspired by the 
memory of Robert Emmet and Sarah Curran. Some of 
the incidents recall their story. Before Hafed calls the 
Ghebers to revolt he has been wandering, an exile, in foreign 
lands ; Hinda, devoured by anxiety for him, hears every 
day of massacres of the rebels. And when, learning that 
her lover has been burned, she drowns herself, the poet 
bewails her fate in a song, entire verses of which might, if 
Erin were substituted for Iran, be added to " She is far from 
the land " without introducing a perceptibly foreign element. 
Take, for instance, the verse : 

" Nor shall Iran, beloved of her Hero, forget thee — 
Though tyrants watch over her tears as they start, 
Close, close by the side of that Hero she'll set thee, 
Embalmed in the innermost shrine of her heart." 
VOL. IV. M 



178 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

And so exact is the resemblance between the spirit of the 
Irish Melodies and that which reigns in this Asiatic epic, 
that it was possible to employ a sentence from the latter, 
without the change of a single word, as motto for the 
collection of documents relating to the Irish Rebellion which 
was published in the Fifties under the title : Rebellion Book 
and Black History. The lines are as follows : — 

" Rebellion I foul, dishonouring word, 

Whose wrongful blight so oft has stained 
The holiest cause that tongue or sword 

Of mortal ever lost or gained. 
How many a spirit born to bless 

Hath sunk beneath that withering name, 
Whom but a day's, an hour's success 

Had wafted to eternal fame 1 " 

It was Moore's polemical position as an Irishman that 
made it impossible for him to see European politics in the 
same light as they appeared to the Lake School and Scott. 
He directed a shower of the arrows of his wit against the 
Holy Alliance. In the Fables for the Holy Alliance, which he 
dedicated to Lord Byron, he jests, good-humouredly but 
audaciously, at the European reaction. He dreams, for 
example, that Czar Alexander gives a splendid ball in an 
ice-palace which he has erected on the frozen Neva, on the 
plan of that built by the Empress Anne. To it are invited 
all the "holy gentlemen" who, at the various Congresses, 
have shown such regard for the welfare of Europe. 

M The thought was happy, and designed 
To hint how thus the human mind 
May — like the stream imprisoned there- 
Be checked and chilled till it can bear 
The heaviest Kings, that ode or sonnet 
E'er yet be-praised, to dance upon it" 

Madame de Krftdener has pledged her prophetic word that 
there is no danger, that the ice will never melt. But, lo 1 
ere long an ill-omened dripping begins. The Czar goes on 
with his polonaise, but so glassy has the floor become that 
he can hardly keep his legs ; and Prussia, " though to 
slippery ways so used, was cursedly near tumbling." But 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 179 

hardly has the Spanish fandango begun when a glaring 
light — " as 'twere a glance shot from an angry southern sun " 
— begins to shine in every chamber of the palace. Then 
there is a general "Sauve qui peut!" Instantly everything 
is in a flow — royal arms, Russian and Prussian birds of prey 
and French fleur-de-lys, floors, walls, and ceilings, kings, 
fiddlers, emperors, all are gone. Why, asks Moore, 

" Why, why will monarchs caper so 
In palaces without foundations?" 

It is evident that he hoped great things from the Spanish 
Revolution, which had just begun. 

In another fable he tells of a country where there was a 
ridiculous law prohibiting the importation of looking-glasses. 
What was the reason of this prohibition ? The reason was that 
the royal race reigned by right of their superior beauty, and 
the people obeyed because they were declared, and believed 
themselves to be, ugly. To hint that the King's nose was 
not straight, was high treason ; to suggest that one's own 
neighbour was as good-looking as certain persons in high 
position, was almost as great a crime; and the subjects, 
never having seen looking-glasses, did not know themselves. 
Certain wicked Radicals arranged that a ship with a cargo 
of looking-glasses should be driven ashore on this country's 
coast — and the reader guesses the rest. In a third fable 
the poet returns to his old symbolic characters, the Fire- 
worshippers. Less tolerant here than in Lalla Rookh, he 
makes the Fire - worshippers throw the whole corps of 
" extinguishers," who have been appointed to obstruct them 
in the peaceful exercise of their religious rites, into the 
flames which they will not allow to burn. 

The work which shows Moore's humour and satire at its 
best, The Fudge Family in Paris, is full of witty sallies against 
the new, incapable Bourbon Government, but strikes at 
England in bold, dead earnest. We find such lines as : 

" Everywhere gallant hearts, and spirits true, 
Are served up victims to the vile and few ; 

While E , everywhere — the general foe 

Of truth and freedom, wheresoe'er they glow — 
Is first, when tyrants strike, to aid the blow 1" 



180 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

And England is reminded that 



• maledictions ring from every side 



Upon that grasping power, that selfish pride, 
Which vaunts its own, and scorns all rights beside." 

The Fourth and Seventh Letters ought to be read, with their 
jeers at the Prince Regent's laziness and corpulence, and 
their abuse of Castlereagh, of whom Moore thus writes : 

M We sent thee C gh ; as heaps of dead 

Have slain their slayers by the pest they spread, 
So hath our land breathed out — thy fame to dim, 
Thy strength to waste, and rot thee, soul and limb— 
Her worst infections all condensed in him 1 " 

And the potentates of the Holy Alliance are called 

" That royal, ravening flock, whose vampire wings 
O'er sleeping Europe treacherously brood, 
And fen her into dreams of promised good, 
Of hope, of freedom — but to drain her blood ! " 

This sounds very bad and very dangerous; the distance 
separating such a writer from the older generation of poets 
strikes us as great ; it seems but a step from this to Shelley 
and Byron. But as a matter of fact, it is a long way ; for all 
these attacks are not quite so seriously meant as one would 
imagine. This champion of the cause of Ireland was no 
advocate of her independence ; Moore did not desire the 
separation of his country from England; he only desired 
that she should be ruled better and more justly. This bold 
denouncer of kings was no republican, but a sincere believer 
in monarchy, who would have had bad kings replaced by 
good ones. He was no free-thinker, this man who railed 
so violently at the hypocrisy of the Holy Alliance, but a 
sincere, enlightened Catholic, who, though he brought up 
his children as Protestants, wrote a thick book, Travels of 
an Irish Gentleman in search of a Religion, in defence of the 
most important doctrines of the Catholic faith. With all 
his apparent unrestraint, Moore kept within the bounds 
prescribed by the society in which he lived. The Whig 



POETRY OF IRISH OPPOSITION AND REVOLT 181 

leaders had, when he came to London, received him with 
open arms, and Moore became and remained the Whig poet, 
who in a long series of playfully sarcastic letters — rhymed 
feuilletons one might call them — treated the public questions 
and Parliamentary events of the day with sparkling wit and 
drawing-room humour of the best style, in the spirit of the 
Whig party. 



XIII 

EROTIC LYRIC POETRY 

MOORE was by nature disposed to gaiety and happiness, not 
to solitary conflict. He was created to occupy, in the 
manner of the ancient Irish bards, an honourable place at 
the table of the great, and while away their time with song. 
A sign of his being one of fortune's favourites is that he 
often jests even when he is most in earnest, unlike Byron, 
who, even when he jests, is serious, nay, gloomy. Moore 
plays with his theme and caresses it ; Byron tears his to 
pieces, and turns from it in disgust. The two friends are 
constantly observing and reproducing nature; but under 
Byron's gaze the sun itself seems to be darkened, whilst 
Moore, with his love of rosy red and brightness and sparkle, 
himself creates " a morning sun which rises at noon." 

Hence we get but a one-sided picture of Moore when 
we study him, as our plan has led us to do, chiefly as a 
political poet. He is also the writer of some of the best 
and most musical erotic lyrics in existence. The music of 
his verse is more exuberant than delicate ; but there is 
magic in his handling of language. In his love poems a 
fascinating, glowing sensuousness and an ardent tenderness 
have found expression in word-melodies which are as tuneful 
as airs by Rossini. English admirers of Shelley, accustomed 
to more delicate, and, to the uninitiated, more perplexing 
harmonies, may, if they please, call these songs " over- 
sweet " ; erotic verse cannot be too erotic ; as the French 
say : " In love too much is not enough." Moore is no 
Mozart ; but is this not almost like a Mozart air, like one of 
the hero's or Zerlina's in Don Juan ? 

" The young May-moon is beaming, love ! 
The glow-worm's lamp is gleaming, love I 

How sweet to rove 

Through Morna's grove, 
While the drowsy world is dreaming, love I* 

18s 



EROTIC LYRIC POETRY 183 

Songs by Rossini and Moore retain their value even though 
the world owned at the same time a Schubert and a Shelley. 
Nowhere are the distinguishing characteristics of the different 
English poets of this period more clearly reflected than in 
their love poems ; whilst at the same time the Naturalism 
distinguishing the period stands out in sharp contrast to the 
supernaturalism of the erotic poetry of the German and 
French reaction periods. Byron's description of his most 
beautiful female character as " Nature's bride and Passion's 
child" {Don Juan ii. 202), and his description of the love of 
Don Juan and Haid6e : 

" This is in others a factitious state, 

An opium dream of too much youth and reading, 
But was in them their nature or their fate," 

might serve as characterisations of the love celebrated in 
the amatory poetry of the majority of his contemporaries. 
But only in Don Juan has Byron painted happy love. His 
erotic poems are nothing but misery and lamentation. The 
most marvellous of them all, "When we two parted/' has a 
sob in its very rhythm ; and the whole pain of parting is 
conveyed by the manner in which the rhythm suddenly 
changes in the last verse. In the first lines there is still a 
certain calmness of passion : 

u When we two parted 

In silence and tears, 
Half broken-hearted, 

To sever for years, 
Pale grew thy cheek and cold, 

Colder thy kiss ; 
Truly that hour foretold 

Sorrow to this." 

But all the misery of love is expressed in the short, abrupt 
cadences of the concluding stanza : 

M In secret we met — 

In silence I grieve, 
That thy heart could forget, 

Thy spirit deceive. 
If I should meet thee 

After long years, 
How should I greet thee?— 

With silence and tears. 



184 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

The peculiar domain of Byronic love-poetry is that of the 
tortures of love. 

Thomas Campbell has not written many purely erotic 
poems — he prefers the shorter or longer love-story in verse 
to the personal outburst — but some of the few are as tender 
in tone as Moore's or Keats's. And, strange to say, he 
becomes warmer, tenderer, less restrained in expression as 
time passes. It is as an old man that he writes his most 
amatory verse. To the remonstrance of conscience, that 
Platonic friendship should content him at his years, he 
answers by a challenge to Plato himself in the skies to look 
into the eyes of a certain lady " and try to be Platonic." 

He sings of the transient nature of love, of the suffering 
occasioned by the absence of the beloved ; he puts into 
words the sufferings of the maid whose lover is " never 
wedding, ever wooing." But he is most characteristically 
himself as the erotic poet when he confesses, with a half 
mournful smile, that his heart is younger than his years, as 
in the following verses : — 

" The god left my heart, at its surly reflections, 
But came back on pretext of some sweet recollections, 
And he made me forget what I ought to remember, 
That the rose-bud of June cannot bloom in November. 

Ah I Tom, 'tis all o'er with thy gay days — 
Write psalms, and not songs for the ladies. 

But time's been so far from my wisdom enriching, 
That the longer I live, beauty seems more bewitching ; 
And the only new lore my experience traces, 
Is to find fresh enchantment in magical faces. 

How weary is wisdom, how weary 1 
When one sits by a smiling young dearie 1" 

Keats's erotic verse is, as was to be expected, burning, 
breathless, sensual ; it revels in fragrance and sweet sounds. 
Read this masterly verse : — 

" Lift the latch ! ah gently 1 ah tenderly— sweet t 
We are dead if that latchet gives one little clink ! 
Well done— now those lips, and a flowery seat— 
The old man may sleep, and the planets may wink ; 
The shut rose shall dream of our loves, and awake 
Full blown, and such warmth for the morning's take ; 
The stock-dove shall hatch her soft brace and shall coo, 
While I kiss to the melody, aching all through. 



EROTIC LYRIC POETRY 185 

Shelley's love-poetry is at one and the same time hyper- 
spiritual and meltingly sensuous. We are reminded by it 
of Correggio. In the productions of both these artists the 
expression of the most utter self-surrender is blent with the 
expression of the most violent sensual excitement ; what 
Shelley describes is the erotic death-struggle. Take the con- 
cluding verse of the The Indian Serenade :— 

" Oh lift me from the grass 1 
I die, I feint, I fail 1 
Let thy love in kisses rain 
On my lips and eyelids pale. 
My cheek is cold and white, alas I 
My heart beats loud and fast ; 
Oh 1 press it to thine own again 
Where it will break at last" 

And along with it the transport with which Epipsychidion 
concludes : — 

" Our breath shall intermix, our bosoms bound. 
And our veins beat together ; and our lips 
With other eloquence than words, eclipse 
The soul that burns between them, and the wells 
Which boil under our being's inmost cells, 
The fountains of our deepest life, shall be 
Confused in passion's golden purity, 
As mountain-springs under the morning Sun. 
• ••••» 

One hope within two wills, one will beneath 
Two overshadowing minds, one life, one death, 
One Heaven, one Hell, one immortality, 
And one annihilation. Woe is me ! 
The winged words on which my soul would pierce 
Into the height of love's rare universe, 
Are chains of lead around its flight of fire — 
I pant, I sink, I tremble, I expire 1" 

If Byron's domain is that of the tortures of the luckless 
or forsaken lover, Shelley's is, as we see, that of the pain of 
the happy lover, of self-annihilation in the rapture of love. 
But for the very reason that the erotic domain of both these 
great poets was thus definitely limited, neither of them wrote 
many erotic poems ; to neither was this one of the most 
important fields of his productivity. 



1 86 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Moore, on the contrary, was a born erotic poet, of the 
type of our Christian Winther. What the majority of love- 
poets are possessed by is the erotic passion ; Moore's distin- 
guishing characteristic is erotic fancy. He loves everything 
that is beautiful, exquisite, delicate, soft, and bright, for its 
own sake, without requiring any background to throw it into 
relief. He never tells any eventful story, never sets off by 
any strong contrast, never undermines by deep brooding. 
He loves the blossoms of the tree, not its roots. The objects 
which fascinate him, fascinate with the first impression ; they 
are beautiful and bright ; they dazzle the senses ; they 
enthral the eye and the ear more than the heart ; they are 
exchanged for other objects possessing the same qualities — 
there is a constant gleam and flutter. But all essentially 
erotic poets have butterfly natures. In this matter no more 
striking contrast can be imagined than that between Words- 
worth and Moore. The former deliberately chooses themes 
which in themselves are insignificant, or unattractive, or even 
ugly, in order to endow them with a moral or spiritual 
beauty ; the latter detests the sordid details of human life, 
recoils from all its adversities, and evades every moral with 
a Wieland-like smile and bow. When he is forced to give 
the ugly a place, he cannot resist casting a soft, glittering 
veil over it. His style has been blamed for its overweight 
of gorgeous adjectives, its propensity to let every passion 
lose itself in a simile, and its restless glitter and gleam. It 
has been called artificial in comparison with Wordsworth's. 
" Artificial ! " cries one of his Irish admirers, " when every 
human being can enjoy Moore's poetry, whilst a new taste 
has to be created to enable one to enjoy Wordsworth's!" 
Is it really the case, then, we are led to ask, that study and 
a cultivated taste are required for the enjoyment of the 
natural, whilst only ordinary feeling is demanded for the 
enjoyment of artificial beauty ? Wordsworth and Coleridge 
were poets for a cultivated, literary public ; Moore was the 
poet for a nation. The faults with which he may fairly be 
charged are the consequences of his natural limitations, of his 
being a musician and a colourist, but not a draughtsman ; he 
is incapable of drawing or describing a whole object, what he 



EROTIC LYRIC POETRY 187 

does is to paint the separate attributes of beautiful objects. 
He devotes verse after verse to the praises of a blush, 
a smile, the melody of a voice ; instead of beautiful outlines 
he gives us a list of beauties. Employing Voltaire's clever 
definition of love — " nature's cloth, which imagination has 
embroidered" — it must be confessed that in Moore's love- 
poetry the embroidery is often so gorgeous and abundant 
that it hardly permits the cloth to appear at all. But the 
cloth is there, and is nature's. 

And it is only fair to add that in Moore's best and most 
beautiful poems the over-abundance of imagery has dis- 
appeared. Where the true Irish melancholy has taken pos- 
session of his soul, it has blown away all the tinsel and found 
expression in imperishable language. The style of "Take 
back the virgin page " and " The last rose of summer " is as 
simple as their metre is perfect. There is not a simile in 
either of them. Nor is there a single simile in the beautiful 
little song which, in spite of its brevity, has for Ireland all 
the significance of a national epic — the simple song of the 
lovely young girl who, though adorned with precious jewels 
and with a beauty still more alluring, went without fear 
from one end of Ireland to the other, knowing that Erin's 
sons, "though they love woman and golden store," love 
honour and virtue more. (" Rich and rare were the gems 
she wore.") Of the man who wrote such a song Byron 
might safely assert : " Moore's Irish Melodies will go down to 
posterity with their music; and both will last as long as 
Ireland or as music and poetry." 

Moore's was a happy life. At the age of thirty-one he 
married a beautiful and amiable girl, Miss Bessy Dyke; 
and their married life was a most harmonious one. He was 
not always in good circumstances, but after his fame was 
established, his works provided him with a handsome income. 
Though in the Grand Dinner of Type and Co. he makes 
the rich publishers (in the manner of the legendary warriors 
who after death drank mead out of the skulls of their 
enemies) drink their wine out of the skulls of poor authors, 
he himself had no reason to complain of his publisher, who 
offered him ^3000 for Latta Rookh before seeing a line of it, 



1 88 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

and gave him £4200 for his excellent Life of Lord Byron. 
Moore was held in equal honour by the Irish and English. 
In 1 81 8 he was entertained at a banquet in Dublin by all 
the most famous literary and public men of the country, and 
when he went to Paris in 1822 he was filed by the British 
nobility there. It was not till he grew old that misfortunes 
came upon him. Then he lost his health and had severe 
trials with his children. He died in 18/2. 

r 



XIV 

THE BRITISH SPIRIT OF FREEDOM 

The poet Thomas Campbell, descended from an ancient 
Highland family, and born and brought up in Scotland, 
was, like Scott, an ardent Scottish patriot ; he also felt warm 
sympathy for Ireland, and, like Moore, sang her national 
memories and sorrows ; but he combined love of the two 
subordinate countries with an ardent and martial British 
patriotism. 

He was, however, not only a national poet in the sense 
in which Wordsworth was one, but also, from his youth to 
his death, an enthusiastic lover of liberty. His epic poems 
and his ballads are not superior to corresponding productions 
of Wordsworth's ; but he had true lyric genius. He is the 
Tyrtaeus or Petofi of the Naturalistic School. To him the 
cause of his country and the cause of liberty are one and the 
same thing, and in his best verse there is a spirit, a swinging 
march time, and a fire, that entitle him, if only for the sake 
of half-a-dozen short pieces, to a place among great 
poets. 

His poem The Battle of the Baltic is, naturally, little 
calculated to make a favourable impression on Danes. His 
pride in the victory Nelson won over a force so much 
weaker than his own, but which the poem magnifies into 
the same size as England's, is the very extravagance of 
patriotism. But, side by side with this poem, and written 
at the same time, we have Ye Mariners of England, a 
masterpiece, in the rhythm of which we seem to hear the 
gale rattling among English sails. Here the true son of the 
Queen of the Sea, singing of the British sailor, celebrates 
his mother's praises. 



i 9 o NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Notice the rushing, sweeping force and exultation com- 
pressed into the last four lines of this stanza : — 

" Ye Mariners of England I 
That guard our native seas ; 
Whose flag has braved a thousand years 
The battle and the breeze I 
Your glorious standard launch again 
To match another foe ! 
And sweep through the deep, 
While the stormy winds do blow ; 
While the battle rages loud and long, 
And the stormy winds do blow. 

And observe the expression of pride in England's sove- 
reignty of the sea : — 

Britannia needs no bulwarks, 

No towers along the steep ; 

Her march is o'er the mountain-waves, 

Her home is on the deep. 

With thunders from her native oak, 

She quells the floods below, — 

As they roar on the shore, 

When the stormy winds do blow ; 

When the battle rages loud and long, 

And the stormy winds do blow. 

Campbell's life was a well regulated and tranquil one. 
Born in Glasgow in 1777, he received an excellent education 
there and in Edinburgh. At the age of twenty-one he pub- 
lished his Pleasures of Hope % which, though now antiquated, 
created a sensation on its appearance, and with the proceeds 
undertook a tour in Germany, during the course of which he 
wrote several poems inspired by the hostilities with Den- 
mark — among them the two above mentioned. In 1803 he 
married his cousin and settled in London. He wrote, 
lectured, and from 1820 onwards edited a newspaper. 
After 1830 his health was precarious and his powers were 
enfeebled. He lived, a shadow of himself, until 1844. 

It is the same with Campbell as with all the other 
authors of the group to which he belonged — his poetic faculty 
is based upon the freshness of his receptivity to natural 
impressions. He has written a poem to the rainbow which, 



THE BRITISH SPIRIT OF FREEDOM 191 

in spite of a rather prosaic and argumentative introduction, is 
a little masterpiece of simplicity and fancy. He begins by 
imagining the feelings of "the world's grey fathers" when 
they came forth to watch its first appearance : — 

" And when its yellow lustre smiled 
O'er mountains yet untrod, 
Each mother held aloft her child 
To bless the bow of God. 

Methinks, thy jubilee to keep. 

The first made anthem rang 
On earth delivered from the deep. 

And the first poet sang. 

Nor ever shall the Muse's eye 

Unraptured greet thy beam : 
Theme of primeval prophecy, 

Be still the poet's theme 1 



How glorious is thy girdle cast 

O'er mountain, tower, and town, 
Or mirrored in the ocean vast, 

A thousand fathoms down 1 

As fresh in yon horizon dark, 

As young thy beauties seem, 
As when the eagle from the ark 

First sported in thy beam." 

And one of his latest poems, The Dead Eagle, written at Oran 
in Africa, bears witness to the same, unenfeebled, receptivity 
to all the phenomena of nature as this early one. In the 
later work we are conscious of a joy in natural strength and 
power which is characteristically English. " True," the poet 
writes : 

" True the carr'd aeronaut can mount as high ; 
But what's the triumph of his volant art ? 
A rash intrusion on the realms of air. 
His helmless vehicle, a silken toy, 
A bubble bursting in the thunder-cloud ; 
His course has no volition, and he drifts 
The passive plaything of the winds. Not such 
Was this proud bird : he clove the adverse storm 
And cuffd it with his wings. He stopp'd his flight 
As easily as the Arab reins his steed, 



192 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

And stood at pleasure 'neath heaven's zenith, like 

A lamp suspended from its azure dome, 

Whilst underneath him the world's mountains lay 

Like molehills, and her streams like lucid threads. 

Then downward, faster than a falling star, 

He near'd the earth, until his shape distinct 

Was blackly shadowtt on the sunny ground ; 

And deeper terror hush'd the wilderness, 

To hear his nearer whoop. Then, up again 

He soared and wheeTd. There was an air of scorn 

In all his movements, whether he threw round 

His crested head to look behind him, or 

Lay vertical and sportively display'd, 

The inside whiteness of his wing declined 

In gyres and undulations full of grace. 

He — reckless who was victor, and above 

The hearing of their guns— saw fleets engaged 

In flaming combat It was nought to him 

What carnage, Moor or Christian, strew'd their decks. 

But if his intellect had match'd his wings, 

Methinks he would have scorn'd man's vaunted power 

To plough the deep ; his pinions bore him down 

To Algiers the warlike, or the coral groves 

That blush beneath the green of Bona's waves ; 

And traversed in an hour a wider space 

Than yonder gallant ship, with all her sails 

Wooing the winds, can cross from morn till eve. 

The earthquake's self 

Disturb'd not him that memorable day, 

When o'er yon table-land, where Spain had built 

Cathedrals, cannon'd forts, and palaces, 

A palsy-stroke of Nature shook Oran, 

Turning her city to a sepulchre, 

And strewing into rubbish all her homes." 

There is wealth of imagination in this as well as wealth of 
observation. 

But Campbell is greatest in his poetry of freedom, in 
poems like Men of England, Stanzas on the Battle of Navarino, 
Lines on Poland, the Power of Russia, and such noble, pro- 
found expressions of spiritual freedom as that entitled Hal- 
lowed Ground. In such productions as these he plainly 
shows his spiritual superiority to the poets of the Lake 
School, who, like him, wrote glorious verse in honour 



THE BRITISH SPIRIT OF FREEDOM 193 

of the nations who were struggling for their independence. 
The Lake poets honoured the struggle only when it was 
against the tyranny of Napoleon, England's enemy. Camp- 
bell makes no difference of this kind ; in the name of free- 
dom he often exhorts and even rebukes England, whereas 
to the other poets she is freedom's very hearth and home. 

Note, in Men of England, the warmth with which he 
insists that the records of valour in war are as nothing 
compared with the glowing love of liberty in the breasts 
of living men, and that the glory of the martyrs of freedom 
is worth a hundred Agincourts. 

Campbell's joy at the liberation of Greece is as genuine 
as his grief over the fall of Poland ; but the poem on 
Poland is more ardent, in its indignation, its hope, its 
lament that " England has not heart to throw the gauntlet 
down." And the verses on the power of Russia display 
as clear an understanding of the danger to civilisation 
which lies in the success of Russia, and of the real signi- 
ficance of the defeat of Poland, as if a statesman had turned 
poet. 

u Were this some common strife of States embroil'd ; — 

Britannia on the spoiler and the spoil'd 

Might calmly look, and, asking time to breathe, 

Still honourably wear her olive wreath. 

But this is Darkness combating with Light ; 

Earth's adverse Principles for empire fight." 

These are weighty words ; and not less pregnant is the 
line: 

" The Polish eagle's fall is big with fate to man." 

The poem Hallowed Ground is, in its bold simplicity, a 
plain protest against all superstition, whatever name it bears, 
and a manly confession of faith in the gospel of liberty as 
proclaimed by the eighteenth century. What is hallowed 
ground ? asks Campbell : 

" What's hallow' d ground ? Has earth a clod 
Its Maker meant not should be trod 
By man, the image of his God, 

Erect and free, 
UnscourgM by superstition's rod 
To bow the knee ? 
VOL. IV. K 



194 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

That's hallow'd ground— where, mourn'd and miss'd, 
The lips repose our love has kiss'd ; — 
But where's their memory's mansion ? Is't 

Yon churchyard's bowers ? 
No ! in ourselves their souls exist, 

A part of ours. 

A kiss can consecrate the ground 
Where mated hearts are mutual bound ; 
The spot where love's first links were wound, 

That ne'er were riven, 
Is hallow'd down to earth's profound, 

And up to heaven ! " 

And, though the ashes of those who have served mankind 
may be scattered to the winds, they themselves, he says, live 
on in men's hearts as in consecrated ground ; until the high- 
priesthood of Peace, Independence, Truth, shall make earth 
at last all hallowed ground. 

Campbell cannot be numbered among the greatest poets 
of the Naturalistic School ; but in his lyrics there is a simple, 
powerful, and melodious pathos which reminds us of the old 
Greek elegiac poets. Although Scotch by birth, his sym- 
pathies were with Ireland, and his spirit was British. 
Although, like the poets of the Lake School, ardently 
patriotic, he was distinctly the lover and champion of 
liberty, and of liberty as a divinity, not as an idol. He 
forms the connecting link between the national poets of 
Scotland and Ireland and the three great English poet- 
emigrants of this period. 



XV 
REPUBLICAN HUMANISM 

During the period when England, as a European power, 
was doing the errands of the Holy Alliance, and within her 
own borders was oppressing the Roman Catholics and reduc- 
ing the lower classes to distressful poverty by unduly 
favouring the landowners, there was a steady increase in the 
number of Englishmen who left their own country to live 
the life of knights-errant of freedom, and, as it were, remind 
the world of England's ancient fame as the protector of 
national independence. Such Englishmen were General 
Wilson, who, under Bolivar, liberated South America, and 
Admiral Cochrane, who won fame first in the Brazilian and 
then in the Greek war of liberation. And to this class also 
belongs Walter Savage Landor, the proudest and most singular . 
figure in the literary world of his period. 

Landor, born at Warwick in 1775, was the descendant 
of an ancient family and the heir of princely wealth. He 
studied at Oxford. In 1802 he resided for a time in Paris. 
On his return he sold the greater part of his property in 
Warwickshire and bought one in another county, on which 
he introduced every possible kind of improvement, to ensure 
that his numerous tenants should live under more favourable 
conditions than their class elsewhere in England. He spent 
.£70,000 on these attempts at reform, which he carried out 
with less understanding of human nature than desire for 
human welfare. His benevolence was shamefully abused by 
its recipients, many of whom took advantage of his unselfish- 
ness and generosity to defraud him on a large scale. En- 
raged by the ingratitude and bad behaviour of his tenants, he 
determined to sell all his property, even the land which had 
been in the possession of his family for seven hundred years, 

*95 



196 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

and to live thenceforward as a free citizen of the world. 
This resolution he carried out in 1806. 

As soon as he heard of the Spanish rebellion against the 
tyranny of Napoleon, Landor went to Spain, equipped a 
small troop at his own expense, and fought with the rebels. 
He received a public letter of thanks from the Spanish Junta, 
along with a commission as colonel in the Spanish army. 
This commission he returned when King Ferdinand was 
restored, with a letter in which he declared that, although 
he should always be devoted to the cause of Spain, he could 
have nothing to do with " a perjurer and traitor " like its 
King. In this one act we have the man's character — pre- 
cipitate and reckless, but proud and high-minded. In this 
author's breast beat the heart of an independent chieftain. 

In 1 815 Landor settled in Italy, where he had his 
home for nearly thirty years. From 1835 *° ^58 he lived 
in England (at Bath). Throughout his long life — he died in 
1864, at the age of 90 — he was the mortal enemy of tyranny 
in all its manifestations, and the ardent champion of 
freedom in everything. To the last he was the unwearied 
benefactor of political refugees and persons suffering for 
their opinions. 

The literary activity displayed during this long, honour- 
able life was prodigious. Landor wrote twice as much as 
Byron. And it is with a feeling of reverence that we open 
many of his books ; but during the whole literary period 
with which we are immediately concerned, his writings were 
neither understood nor valued. Landor wrote without any 
connection with a reading public, and without receiving any 
encouragement from the critics, who told him nothing but 
that he was stiff and cold, and that his English was like a 
translation from a foreign language ; he never enjoyed the 
smallest amount of popularity or any species of literary 
triumph. After his death he began to be admired, and 
about 1870 to exercise influence. 

To pass from Moore to Landor is like setting foot on 
firm ground after rocking on the waves. Landor's distin- 
guishing characteristic is a manly decision ; he stands high 
as an author, but higher still as a man. He is, unfortun- 



REPUBLICAN HUMANISM 197 

ately, so little read that one cannot presuppose acquaintance 
with any of his writings, or find any point of support in the 
memory or fancy of one's reader on which to base 
criticisms ; and he is not easy to describe. His decision 
found its most remarkable expression in an estimate of him- 
self which is startling to many. We come upon such 
verdicts as this : " What I write is not written upon a slate : 
and no finger, not of Time himself, who dips it in the clouds 
of years, can efface it " ; and upon such answers to the 
reviewers of his Imaginary Conversations as : " Let the sturdiest 
of them take the ten worst of them, and if he equals them in 
ten years I will give him a hot wheaten roll and a pint of 
brown stout for breakfast." Such pride would have made a 
smaller man ridiculous, but it does not harm Landor ; it 
occasionally becomes him. It reminds us at times of the 
not unjustifiable, but uncontrollably arrogant feeling which 
Schopenhauer had of his own deserts, only that Land or 's 
manner is always that of the refined aristocrat, whilst 
Schopenhauer, with his utter disregard of the laws of 
common politeness, is a thorough plebeian. And on rare 
occasions the peculiar temperament, with its grand passionate- 
ness and its even grander productivity, reminds us of a man 
whose name is too great to be lightly named, but who, though 
infinitely Landor's intellectual superior, would perhaps have 
acknowledged the intellectual kinship — the solitary, severe 
Michael Angelo. 

There was something severe in Landor's nature— the 
severity which goes along with firmness of character and 
absolute truthfulness to one's self and others. In his work 
there is a certain salutary harshness. The poem " Hyper- 
bion," from the Hellenics, may be given as a good and very 
characteristic example of it. 

" Hyperbion was among the chosen few 
Of Phoebus ; and men honored him awhile, 
Honoring in him the God. But others sang 
As loudly ; and the boys as loudly cheeiM. 
Hyperbion (more than bard should be) was wroth, 
And thus he spake to Phoebus : * Hearest thou, 
O Phoebus, the rude rabble from the field, 



198 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Who swear that they have known thee ever since 

Thou feddest for Admetus his white bull ? ' 

' I hear them/ said the God. ' Seize thou the first. 

And haul him up above the heads of men, 

And thou shalt hear them shout for thee as pleas'd.' 

Headstrong and proud Hyperbion was : the crown 

Of laurel on it badly cooPd his brow : 

So, when he heard them singing at his gate, 

While some with flints cut there the rival's name, 

Rushing he seized the songster at their head : 

The songster kickt and struggled hard, in vain. 

Hyperbion claspt him round with arm robust. 

And with the left a hempen rope uncoiPd, 

Whereon already was a noose : it held 

The calf until its mother's teat was drawn 

At morn and eve ; and both were now afield. 

With all his strength he pulPd the wretch along, 

And haul'd him up a pine-tree, where he died. 

But one night, not long after, in his sleep 

He saw the songster : then did he beseech 

Apollo to enlighten him, if perchance 

In what he did he had done aught amiss. 

'Thou hast done well, Hyperbion !' said the God, 

1 As I did also to one Marsyas 

Some years ere thou wert born : but better 'twere 

If thou hadst understood my words aright, 

For those around may harm thee, and assign 

As reason that thou wentest past the law. 

My meaning was that thou shouldst hold him up 

In the high places of thy mind, and show 

Thyself the greater by enduring him.' 

Downcast Hyperbion stood : but Phoebus said : 

1 Be of good cheer, Hyperbion ! if the rope 

Is not so frayed but it may hold thy calf, 

The greatest harm is, that, by hauling him, 

Thou hast chafed sorely, sorely, that old pine ; 

And pine-tree bark will never close again.' " 

Seldom has an Apollo expressed himself in a less sickly- 
sentimental manner on the subject of mediocrity in art. 
Landor's contempt for it was based on the severity of the 
artistic demands he made on himself. He is the severest 
stylist among English prose writers — not stylist in the sense 
of virtuoso in language, for no English is less flexible than 
his — but in this sense, that he represents all his characters, 
the most commonplace and the grandest, the ancient and the 



REPUBLICAN HUMANISM 199 

modern, in the same simple Attic style. To his marked 
preference for the heroic and the grand is due the majestic 
tranquillity which as a rule characterises his Conversations (the 
branch of literature he specially cultivated) ; the dialogue 
is Grecian in its beautiful simplicity, Anglo-Roman in its 
proud decision. His style is pure, correct, concise ; and its 
antique quality specially fits it for the representation of 
ancient Greek and Roman characters. The public assemblies 
in the market-place of Athens, the Senate and Forum of 
Rome, these live in his Conversations with the life of their 
own day. Modern dialogue flowed much less easily and 
naturally from his pen ; he was successful in the more 
modern Conversations only when the situation was of such a 
nature as to be receptive of life and warmth from his own 
concealed indignation. 

To make acquaintance with Landor in his full vigour and 
brilliancy one must read his Pericles and Aspasia, a tale in 
epistolary form. It is a work of the same description as 
Wieland's Aristippus, but written in a very different spirit and 
style. Where Wieland is florid and coquettish, Landor is dis- 
tinguished by manly grace; where Wieland is sentimental, 
Landor is noble and proud. This correspondence is chiselled 
rather than written ; it represents Pericles as the republican 
type of noble humanity and political wisdom ; and in it 
Aspasia is not the hetaera, but a personification of Hellenic 
beauty and delicacy of feeling, of pagan womanhood, and 
of the emancipated antique intellect and culture. There is 
consequently not a trace of anything resembling coquetry 
in the letters ; everything that is small and undignified seems 
to lie beyond the horizon of the work and its author. But 
the old-fashioned epistolary form and the length of the 
letters make the book tedious, and the reader who has not 
enough patience for it will do well to turn from it to 
Landor's masterpiece, the Conversation between Epicurus, 
Leontion, and *£ ernissa. 

This Conversation is inferior to a dialogue of Plato only 
in profundity of thought ; it rivals Plato in grace, in reve- 
lation of character, and in naturalness. The amiable phi- 
losopher, now approaching middle-age, is walking in his 



200 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

beautiful garden with two young Greek girls, talking of the 
trivial events of the day and the serious events of life. An 
Attic atmosphere, a dignified sensuousness, a chaste and 
charming grace, distinguish the whole scene, striking us 
perhaps most in the little touches which describe the two 
girls, particularly the younger, aged sixteen, with her mixture 
of bashfulness and attractive straightforwardness. Landor 
has here created the feminine counterpart of Plato's 
youths ; he has discovered the Greek maiden, whom Plato 
neglected, whom Greek tragedy represented only in solemn 
or majestically tragic situations, and whose outward ap- 
pearance alone has been preserved for us in beautiful 
reliefs. 

One is well repaid for one's trouble in following the 
windings of this Conversation. It begins with a pretty 
description of the surrounding scene, and with praise of the 
solitude which is necessary to the man who desires to think, 
and to write his thoughts. Behind the figure of Epicurus 
we here catch a glimpse of Landor, who had this same love 
of a retired life, at a distance from the traffic and noise of 
the busy world. (See Conversation between Southey and 
Landor.) Then Epicurus discusses playfully and charm- 
ingly with Ternissa the question whether the myth of Boreas, 
Zethes, and Calais is to be accepted literally or not, whilst 
the elder girl teases Ternissa because of her credulousness. 
After this the Conversation, touching lightly for a moment 
on the delicious scent of the vine-leaves and on the new olive 
plantations, turns into an affecting, profound discussion on 
the fear of death. The calm, dignified attitude of Epicurus 
arouses the girls' admiration, and leads them violently to 
upbraid those who condemn and persecute him as an atheist. 
It comes out that Leontion has written a whole book for the 
purpose of refuting the charges against him made by Theo- 
phrastus. Epicurus proves to her with gentle dignity how 
useless replies to such attacks are, and explains to her why 
he will contend with no one. u I would not contend even 
with men able to contend with me . . . Whom should 
I contend with ? The less ? it were inglorious. The greater ? 
it were vain." Here we perceive Landor himself again. 



REPUBLICAN HUMANISM 201 

This was the very argument of the man who a few years 
before his death prefixed to his last book the motto : 

u I strove with none, for none was worth my strife : 
Nature I loved, and, next to nature, Art ; 
I warmed both hands before the fire of life ; 
It sinks, and I am ready to depart 

The first of these lines contains both a confession and 
a justification of what appeared to be his arrogance — that 
which small minds found it so difficult to understand or to 
pardon. The second tells what was the chief subject of his 
earnest study, and what, supplementing it, came next in 
order. The third line is an expression of the noble philosophy 
which supported and nourished his spirit under so much 
misunderstanding and opposition; and the last shows him 
prepared, with the quiet dignity which harmonised with his 
character, to fold his mantle round him and depart when 
his time came. 1 

Leontion continues the Conversation. "The old," she 
says, "are all against you, for the name of pleasure is an 
affront to them : they know no other kind of it than that 
which has flowered and seeded, and of which the withered 
stems have indeed a rueful look. What we call dry they 
call sound ; nothing must retain any juice in it : their 
pleasure is in chewing what is hard, not in tasting what is 
savoury." Landor, who had to submit to reproaches for 
the licentiousness of his writings even from Byron (see 
preface to A Vision of Judgment), evidently derives his philo- 
sophy, as John Stuart Mill did his system of morality, from 
Epicurus, the pagan. 

The Conversation passes lightly from one subject to 
another ; now it turns on Ternissa's blushes at the remem- 
brance of the statues of satyrs and fauns in the bath chamber, 
now on Leontion's feminine objections to Aristotle and 
Theophrastus. It concludes in a genuinely Greek, Epicurean, 

* See The Centenary of Landor 9 s Birth in The Examiner of 30th January 1875, 
an article written by the talented poet and critic, Edmund Gosse, who for us Danes 
possesses the special merit of being one of the most appreciative and best-informed 
foreign critics of Dano-Norwegian literature. 



202 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

erotic manner ; Epicurus and Ternissa act the scene between 
Peleus and Thetis, which ends with a kiss. 

In this Conversation we have Landor's art and his tran- 
quil humanism at their best. But when we turn to the 
modern Conversations we become acquainted with the soldier 
in him, the writer ever armed, ever ready for the fray, who, 
assuming a thousand different disguises, exposes and strikes 
at every form of falsehood and oppression which challenges 
him to the attack in his character of pagan, republican, and 
philanthropist. In his 125 Imaginary Conversations he roams, 
displaying an astonishing amount of information, over the 
whole face of the earth — from Ixmdon to China, from Paris 
to the South Sea Islands ; and throughout the whole of 
history — from Cicero to Bossuet, from Cromwell to Petrarch, 
from Tasso to Talleyrand ; in every country and every age 
uttering a vigorous protest against tyranny, and speaking a 
word, sharp as a sword, in the cause of liberty. We over- 
hear what the Empress Catharine and her favourite maid of 
honour say to each other while they are in the act of 
murdering the former's husband ; and the Conversation in 
question is not much inferior to one of Vitet's incomparable 
historical scenes, which are models in this style. We hear 
Louis XVIII. talking politics with the supercilious, polished 
Talleyrand, and notice how the uncontrollable longing for 
plenty of pheasants and pheasants' eggs twines itself, like a 
scarlet thread, through the web of all His Majesty's political 
plans. We listen to General Kleber talking with his staff- 
officers in Egypt, and are conscious of the dissatisfaction 
with Napoleon's tyrannical measures which runs, like a sub- 
dued murmur, through all they say. We are present at the 
assassination of Kotzebue, and hear Sandt, in the course 
of his attempts to induce Kotzebue to quit the path he is 
treading, pronounce his own acquittal. 

It was an article of Landor's political creed that the 
oppressor ought to fall by the sword. All his life he advo- 
cated the death of tyrants; he was not afraid openly to 
express his wish that Napoleon ill. might be assassinated. 
He was a friend and spiritual kinsman of the great European 
revolutionists who, with Mazzini at their head, had sworn 



REPUBLICAN HUMANISM 203 

implacable enmity to the oppressors of the nations. But it 
is not only as a politician that Landor shoots beyond the 
mark ; by far the greater number of his historical Conversa- 
tions suffer from the too open pursuit of some aim of his own. 
We are always catching sight of Landor himself. Take, for 
example, his representation of Catharine of Russia at the 
terrible moment above referred to: Landor cannot resist 
seizing the opportunity to discourse, in the disguise of Princess 
Dashkoff, on the ungodliness of Voltaire's character and the 
immorality of his Pucelle, with the aim of impressing upon 
us what a bad influence the French spirit had upon Russia. 
For with all his liberal-mindedness he is sufficiently the 
Englishman of his day to lay the blame of everything bad 
on France, and never to represent a Frenchman in any but 
a ridiculous or contemptible light. When, for example, he 
writes a Conversation between Louis XVIII. and Talleyrand, 
he cannot refrain from making his satire so severe — Louis' 
foolish speeches so imbecile, Talleyrand's tone to his sovereign 
so ironical — that no one can believe in the historic truthful- 
ness of the whole. Landor desires to hear the English and 
Wellington praised, and desires to have Louis' incapacity 
plainly shown, and he is rash enough to put both the eulogy 
of England and the mockery of Louis into the mouth of the 
judicious French courtier. 

In the handling of the weapons of satire, Landor might 
have learned much from the Frenchmen whom he disliked 
so heartily. But he had as great a contempt for their 
literature as for their politics, and despised Voltaire, the author, 
quite as much as Voltaire, the man. In the Conversation 
between himself and the Abb6 Delille he uses, as a critic of 
French tragedy, even severer language than Lessing, and 
shows no more appreciation than Lessing did of the great 
stylistic capacity inherent in the characteristically French 
intellect. It strikes us as comical to hear one man re- 
proaching another with the utmost insolence for being too 
polished. 

One hardly needs to be told that a man with this opinion 
of French classic poetry was a despiser of Pope, an enthu- 
siastic admirer of Milton, and a pronounced supporter of the 



204 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

reform of English poetry demanded by Wordsworth. Most 
of the Conversations upon literary topics are written for the 
purpose of eulogising Wordsworth and Southey, and re- 
proaching the reading public for its want of appreciation of 
such fine poetry as theirs. 1 Keats and Shelley are also 
warmly praised ; and Landor expresses regret that he had 
not made the personal acquaintance of either, and, in par- 
ticular, that a false report concerning Shelley's behaviour to 
his first wife had kept him from calling upon that poet at 
Pisa. He writes of Shelley that he " united, in just degrees, 
the ardour of the poet with the patience and forbearance of 
the philosopher," and that " his generosity and charity went 
far beyond those of any man at present in existence." But 
no sooner is Byron mentioned than Landor expresses him- 
self exactly like a poet of the Lake School. The man who 
believed that the two fingers which held his pen had more 
power than the two Houses of Parliament (see conclusion of 
the Conversation between Landor and Marchese Pallavicini) 
could never forget Byron's satire of his Gcbir. And the 
remarkable friendship existing, in spite of all their political 
and religious differences, between him and Southey, made it 
equally impossible for him to forget the blows which Byron 
had struck at his admirer. Byron's egotism and excitable 
restlessness were, undoubtedly, antipathetic to Landor, but 
it was the treatment of Southey which influenced him most, 
and blinded him to many of the great poet's best qualities. 
The connection with Southey is, on the whole, little credit- 
able to Landor, and Forster's long Life of Landor is rendered 
the more unreadable by the disproportionate space allotted 
in it to letters from and to such an uninteresting personage 
as Southey. In Landor's eyes Southey had the great, and 
certainly rare, merit of being one of the two persons who 
had read and bought the poem Gebir when it came out. De 
Quincey, who was the other, tells that in his youth he was 
hooted in the streets of Oxford as the one reader of that 
poem in the University. So we can understand how Southey, 
who not only bought and read, but praised it, and who, more- 

1 See, for example, the two Conversations between Southey and Porson, and the 
survey of the English poets in Miscellaneous, cxvi. 



REPUBLICAN HUMANISM 205 

over, wrote a favourable review of Landor's dull Count Julian 
in the Quarterly, must have seemed to the self-satisfied author 
a man of the rarest intellectual penetration. 

It is undeniable that Gebir, in spite of all its passionate 
republicanism, is a stilted, valueless composition, which 
bears evident traces of having been, by a characteristic 
whim of its author, first written in Latin verse. There 
was, throughout, a Latin quality in Landor's verse. Even 
Gosse, who admires it, feels obliged to confess that its 
character, like the taste of olives, is peculiar enough to 
acquit any person who does not like it of the charge of 
affectation. It is in his prose alone that his strength lies. 

But a writer whose poetry is lacking in charm of 
expression and lyric soul, whose dramas were neither played 
nor read, and who found his true province in lengthy prose 
dialogue, spoken in all parts of the world and at all periods 
of history, but unconnected with any play — such a writer 
could not, however noble his principles and unmistakable 
his Radicalism, be the man to bring about a general Euro- 
pean revulsion to liberal opinions. He repelled by his 
whimsicalities and crotchets, of which such instances may 
be given as his defence of the burning of Rome by Nero 
as a hygienic measure, his characterisation of Pitt as a medi- 
ocrity, and Fox as a charlatan, or, greatest absurdity of all, 
his advice to the Greeks, during their struggle with the 
Turks, to give up the use of firearms and resort to their old 
weapon, the bow. He was too peculiar and too much of 
the solitary to have admirers and imitators ; he was too 
incomprehensible by the ordinary mind to exercise any 
influence upon the general public ; his virtues contributed 
as much as his faults — his wild manliness as much as his 
excessive self-sufficiency — to render him unapproachable. 
And if he was incapable of compromising like Moore, 
that is to say, of ever becoming a Whig poet, he was 
equally incapable of ever imparting to his Radicalism a 
poetic form that would entrance and captivate a whole 
reading public. His partial understanding of the great 
modern movements in religion, government, and society, 
entitles him to be grouped with two younger and greater 



206 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

men, Shelley and Byron. He fought for his ideals like a 
brave and proud republican soldier ; but he was neither fitted 
to be a general nor to submit to rule ; and he had not the 
power of inspiring a multitude of other minds. 1 

The eldest of the three freedom-loving exiles, he out- 
lived the other two — lived so long, indeed, that he became 
the contemporary of an entirely different generation of 
English poets. Browning was his friend ; Swinburne's 
cordial admiration sweetened the last years of his life ; the 
dedication of Atalanta shows the young man's feelings 
towards the old. Landor's great shade, extending one hand 
to Wordsworth, the other to Swinburne, seems to hover 
over the whole poetic development of England during a 
period of not less than eighty years. 

1 A satirical pamphlet which he published in 1836, Letters of a Conservative, in 
which are shown the only means of saving what is left of the English Church, made 
no impression. 



XVI 
RADICAL NATURALISM 

If in the year 1820, any respectable, well-educated English- 
man had been asked : " Who is Shelley ? " he would un- 
doubtedly, if he could answer the question at all, have 
replied : "He is said to be a bad poet with shocking prin- 
ciples and a worse than doubtful character. The Quarterly 
Review, which is not given to defamation, says that he him- 
self is distinguished by 'low pride, cold selfishness, and 
unmanly cruelty,' and his poetry by ' its frequent and total 
want of meaning.' He has lately published a poem called 
Prometheus Unbound, the verse of which the same review calls 
' drivelling prose run mad. 1 And the press is unanimous in 
this opinion. The Literary Gazette writes that, if it were not 
assured to the contrary, it would take it for granted that the 
author of Prometheus Unbound was a lunatic — as his prin- 
ciples are ludicrously wicked, and his poetry is a melange 
of nonsense, cockneyism, poverty, and pedantry. It calls 
the work in question 'the stupid trash of this delirious 
dreamer.' " 

And it is quite possible that our Englishman would have 
added, in an undertone : " There are very bad reports in 
circulation about Shelley. The Literary Gazette, which is 
always specially severe on the enemies of religion, hints at 
incest. It declares that ' to such a man it would be a matter 
of perfect indifference to rob a confiding father of his 
daughters, and incestuously to live with all the branches of 
a family whose morals were ruined by the damned sophistry 
of the seducer.' These expressions may be too strong, but 
it is hardly credible that they are entirely undeserved ; for 
Blackwood's Magazine, the only periodical which has been at 
all favourable to Shelley, writes of his Prometheus: ' It seems 



208 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

impossible that there can exist a more pestiferous mixture of 
blasphemy, sedition, and sensuality.' And you may possibly 
have heard Theodore Hook's witty saying: l Prometheus 
Unbound — it is well named : who would bind it ? ' " 

And if, two years later, when this harshly reviewed poet 
was already dead, the same curious inquirer had applied to 
the publisher for information as to the saleableness of the 
fiercely attacked works, the latter would quite certainly have 
complained of them as a bad business speculation, and told 
his questioner that, during Shelley's lifetime, not a hun- 
dred copies of any of his works, except Queen Mab and 
The Cenci, had been sold, and that, as far as Adonais and 
Epipsychidion were concerned, ten would be nearer the 
number. 

If any one were to ask now : Who was Shelley ? what a 
different answer would be given ! But to-day there is no 
one in England who would ask. 

It was on the 4th of August 1792 that England's greatest 
lyric poet was born. On the same day on which, in Paris, 
the leaders of the Revolution — Santerre, Camille Desmoulins, 
and others — were meeting in a house on the Boulevards to 
make the arrangements which resulted, a few days later, in 
the fall of monarchy in France, there came into the world at 
Field Place, in the English county of Sussex, a pretty little 
boy with deep blue eyes, whose life was to be of greater and 
more enduring significance in the emancipation of the human 
mind than all that happened in France in August 1792. 
Not quite thirty years later his name — Percy Bysshe Shelley — 
was carved upon the stone in the Protestant cemetery in 
Rome under which his ashes lie ; and below the name are 
engraved the words : Cor cordium. 

Cor cordium, heart of hearts — such was the simple in- 
scription in which Shelley's young wife summed up his 
character ; and they are the truest, profoundest words she 
could have chosen. 

The Shelleys are an ancient and honourable family. 
The poet's father, Sir Timothy Shelley, was a wealthy land- 
owner. He was a narrow-minded man, a supporter of the 
existing, for the simple reason that it existed. But revolt 



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P. B. SHELLEY 



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RADICAL NATURALISM 209 

against rule and convention was hereditary in Shelley's 
family, as wildness and violence of temper were in Byron's. 
Percy's grandfather, a strange, restless man, eloped with two 
of his three wives ; and two of his daughters in their turn 
eloped. Of these incidents we are reminded by similar 
occurrences in the life of the grandson — just as many an 
action of Byron's reminds us of the sum of untamed and 
reckless passionateness which was his indisputable inheri- 
tance from father and mother. Unconventionality, revolt 
against hard and fast rule, was, however, but an outward 
and comparatively unimportant part of Shelley's character 
and life. It was only a sign of the alert receptivity and 
the keen sensitiveness, the early development of which 
strikes every student of his biographies. At school, ill-used 
himself, he rebels against the ill-treatment to which, 
according to the prevalent English custom, the weaker and 
younger boys were subjected by the older boys, and in 
this case also by the masters. Shelley seems to have 
been in a very special manner the victim of this species 
of brutality, just as he was in later life of many other 
species ; there was a natural antipathy between him and 
everything base and stupid and foul, and he never entered 
into a compromise with any one or any thing of this 
nature. 

We gain a distinct idea of what his impressions were on 
his entrance into life, from a fragment found after his death 
upon a scrap of paper : — 

M Alas 1 this is not what I thought life was. 

I knew that there were crimes and evil men, 
Misery and hate ; nor did I hope to pass, 

Untouched by suffering, through the rugged glen. 
In mine own heart I saw as in a glass 
The hearts of others." 

He wrought for his soul, he tells us, "a linked armour of 
calm steadfastness." But passionate indignation had pre- 
ceded this mood of quiet resistance ; and the soul which he 
armed with steadfastness was too enthusiastic and ardent not 
to lay plans of attack behind its defences. 

vol. iv. o 



210 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

In the introduction to the Revolt of Islam, he recalls " the 
hour which burst his spirit's sleep " : — 

" A fresh May-dawn it was, 
When I walked forth upon the glittering grass, 
And wept, I knew not why : until there rose 
From the near schoolroom voices that, alas 1 
Were but one echo from a world of woes — 
The harsh and grating strife of tyrants and of foes. 

And then I clasped my hands, and looked around : 
But none was near to mock my streaming eyes, 
Which poured their warm drops on the sunny ground. 
So, without shame, I spake : ' I will be wise, 
And just, and free, and mild, if in me lies 
Such power ; for I grow weary to behold 
The selfish and the strong still tyrannise 
Without reproach or check.' I then controlled 
My tears, my heart grew calm, and I was meek and bold." 

The generation which was born at the same time and 
under the same planet as the first French Republic was 
precocious in its criticism of all traditional beliefs and con- 
ventions. Shelley, who at school saw tyranny and feigned 
piety attendant on one another, and who became acquainted 
at a very early age with the writings of the French Encyclo- 
paedists and of Hume, Godwin, and other English free- 
thinkers, brooded deeply, long before he was grown up, on 
the history, the destiny, and the errors of the human race. 
His thoughts were the thoughts of an immature youth, but 
their spirit was the spirit of liberty, as understood by the 
eighteenth century. 

What his comrades remembered about him in later years 
was his defiant attitude towards authority, more particularly 
a habit he had of "cursing his father and the king." He 
went among the boys by the name of " mad Shelley," and 
" Shelley the atheist." Thus early was the opprobrious word 
applied to him which was to be coupled with his name all his 
life, and serve as a pretext for abuse and defamation. 

It is unnecessary to dwell upon those events in Shelley's 
life of which every one who has heard his name has at least 
a superficial knowledge. We need merely recall to mind 



RADICAL NATURALISM 211 

the fact that, as the undergraduate of eighteen, he had the 
curious habit of writing down his heresies on such subjects 
as God, government, and society, in the form of letters, 
which he sent to people personally unknown to him, with 
the request that they would refute his theories and provide 
him with the proofs against his arguments which he himself 
was unable to find ; that, out of these letters, which consisted 
chiefly of extracts from the works of Hume and the French 
materialists, grew a little anonymous pamphlet (no longer in 
existence) which was entitled The Necessity of Atheism, and 
ended with a Q. E. D. ; and that Shelley, in the childish 
hope of exercising a reforming influence on the spirit of his 
age, sent a copy of this pamphlet to the Bench of Bishops. 
What followed is equally well known. Shelley, denounced 
as the author, was not only expelled from the University, 
but from his father's house. 

No one nowadays considers that any serious scientific 
conviction, in whatever manner it may be expressed, should 
bring disgrace and punishment upon its exponent ; and 
Shelley's punishment appears to us doubly unreasonable 
when we discover that in his pamphlet (the substance of 
which he reprinted in the notes to Queen Mab) he is no 
more an atheist than, for example, our Oersted is in his 
well-known work, The Spirit in Nature. He has not yet 
arrived at any logical and consistent theory of life ; he is 
only clear on the one main point, that he is not, and never 
can become, an adherent of any so-called revealed religion. 
The materialistic impressions received from the books he has 
read are blent in his mind with the ardent pantheism which 
distinguished him to the last. When Trelawny asked him 
in 1822, the year in which he died : Why do you call your- 
self an atheist ? Shelley replied : ll I used the name to ex- 
press my abhorrence of superstition ; I took up the word, as 
a knight took up the gauntlet, in defiance of injustice/' 

Shelley had grown up tall and slight, narrow-chested, his 
features small and not regular except the mouth, which was 
beautiful, clever, and fascinating ; there was a feminine and 
almost seraphic look in the eyes, and the whole face was 
distinguished by an infinite play of expression. He some- 



212 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

times looked the age he was — nineteen, sometimes as if he 
were forty. In the course of the ten remaining years of his 
life he became more manly in appearance, but still often 
struck people as boyish and feminine looking — witness 
Trelawny's surprise at his first meeting with Shelley: 
" Was it possible this mild-looking beardless boy could be 
the veritable monster at war with all the world, and 
denounced by the rival sages of our literature as the 
founder of a Satanic school?" His countenance assumed 
every expression — earnest, joyful, touchingly sorrowful, 
listlessly weary ; but what it suggested most frequently in 
later years was promptitude and decision. He often 
expressed in his face the feeling he put into words in his 
poem To Edward Williams : 

" Of hatred I am proud, — with scorn content ; 
Indifference, that once hurt me, now is grown 
Itself indifferent" 

To all this we may add, employing words used by a 
friend of his youth, that he looked u preternaturally intelli- 
gent " ; and that Mulready, a distinguished painter of the 
day, said it was simply impossible to paint Shelley's portrait 
— he was "too beautiful." 

It is, then, as a youth of this nature — excitable as a poet, 
brave as a hero, gentle as a woman, blushing and shy as a 
young girl, swift and light as Shakespeare's Ariel — that we 
must think of Shelley going out and in among his friends. 
Mrs. Williams said of him : "He comes and goes like a 
spirit, no one knows when or where." 

His health was extremely delicate all his life, and would 
probably have given way altogether if he had not rigidly 
a'dhered to the simplest diet. About 1812 he adopted 
vegetarianism, with doubtful benefit. He was of a con- 
sumptive habit and subject to nervous and spasmodic attacks, 
which were sometimes so violent that he rolled on the floor 
in agony, and had recourse to opium to dull the pain ; when 
he had his worst attacks he would not let the opium bottle 
out of his hand. When he was visiting the London hospitals 
and studying medicine with the aim of being able to assist 



RADICAL NATURALISM 213 

the poor, he himself became seriously ill, and an eminent 
physician prophesied that he would die of consumption. 
But his lungs completely righted themselves some years 
later. In 18 17, in attending some of the poor in their 
cottages, he caught a bad attack of ophthalmia ; and he had 
a relapse of the same malady at the end of the year, and 
another in 1821, each time severe enough to prevent his 
reading. 

The lofty philanthropy which to him was a religion, 
demanded many offerings. He displayed it wherever he 
went. When he was living at Marlow, in anything but 
affluent circumstances, he made all the poor of the neighbour- 
hood his pensioners ; they came to his house every week for 
their allowances, and he went to them when they were kept 
at home by sickness. One day he appeared barefooted at 
the house of a neighbour ; he had given away his shoes to a 
poor woman. Of his own accord, almost immediately after 
his expulsion from Oxford, he gave up, for the benefit of his 
sisters, his claim to the greater part of his father's estate. 
At the time when he was enjoying an income of about £1000 
a year, he spent most of it in assisting others, especially poor 
men of letteib, wiiose debts he paid, and to whom he showed 
generosity almost unjustifiable in a man of his means. 

The story of his first marriage is as follows. Exaggerated 
and mistaken chivalry led him at the age of nineteen to elope 
with a schoolgirl of sixteen, named Harriet Westbrook, who 
was very much in love with him, and had complained bitterly 
to him of her father's ill-treatment of her (he had forbidden 
her to love Shelley, and tried to compel her to go to school !). 
Shelley, after various meetings with her, made his plans, 
carried her off to Scotland, and married her in Edinburgh. 
The censure of public opinion fell most severely on the pdfet 
for this behaviour; but W. M. Rossetti's remark is very much 
to the point, namely, that it would be interesting to know 
"what percentage of faultlessly Christian young heirs of 
opulent baronets would have acted like the atheist Shelley, 
and married a retired hotel-keeper's daughter offering her- 
self as a mistress." The hasty union, contracted without 
any proper consideration, proved an unhappy one ; and it 



214 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

was dissolved when, in 1814, Shelley made the acquaintance 
of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, then in her seventeenth 
year, and was inspired by her with an irresistible passion. 
Mary Godwin, the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the first 
famous pleader for the emancipation of woman, and of 
William Godwin, the free-thinking author of the works which 
had had such an influence on Shelley in his earliest youth, 
gave him her love frankly and freely, and in so doing acted 
strictly according to her own code of right. The young 
couple's theories of marriage, which were too ideal not to be 
regarded as vile by the vile, were also too impracticable. 
Although in their eyes mutual love alone, and not any 
ecclesiastical or civil formality, constituted the sacred 
marriage tie, they nevertheless for practical reasons, and 
especially for the sake of their children, went through the 
customary marriage ceremony in 1816, after the suicide of 
Shelley's first wife. Before this they had been twice abroad, 
first on a short tour, great part of which was taken on foot, 
and then for a longer period of travel, during which they 
met Byron. Shelley's name was, accordingly, coupled with 
Byron's, and the English press attacked them both with the 
utmost fury, going so far as to put a shameful interpretation 
on their noble and manly friendship. 

Southey found occasion for a perfect explosion of abuse 
in the circumstance, insignificant and harmless enough, that 
Shelley had written in the album kept for visitors at the 
Chartreuse at Montanvert in the valley of Chamounix, below 
a number of pious platitudes about "Nature and Nature's 
God," the following incorrectly spelt hexameter line : 

ci/uu fakdvOpitiiros &|Mi>k/m£tik<>c r' a#c<fc re. 

Percy B. Shelley. 

The well-known outburst against Lord Byron, which has 
been already touched on, has this utterance as its point of 
departure. 

Such is, given in a few words, the overture to Shelley's 
life and poetry. 

Car cordium was his rightful appellation — for what he 
understood and felt was the innermost heart of things, their 



RADICAL NATURALISM 215 

soul and spirit ; and the feelings to which he gave expression 
were those inmost feelings, for which words seem too coarse, 
and which find vent only in music or in such verse as his, 
which is musical as richly harmonised melodies. 

The suppressed melancholy of Shelley's lyrics sometimes 
reminds us of Shakespeare. The little spinning song in The 
Cenci, for example, recalls Amiens' song in As You Like It or 
the songs of Desdemona and Ophelia. 

But where Shelley is most himself he surpasses Shake- 
speare in delicacy ; and there is no other poet with whom 
he can be compared ; no one surpasses him. The short 
poems of 1 82 1 and 1822 are, one may venture to say, the 
most exquisite in the English language. 

Take as a specimen the little poem entitled A Dirge : — 

" Rough wind that moanest loud 

Grief too sad for song ; 
Wild wind when sullen cloud 

Knells all the night long ; 
Sad storm whose tears are vain, 
Bare woods whose branches stain, 
Deep caves and dreary main, 

Wail for the world's wrong I w 

And wondrous in melody and restraint of expression is a 
verse like this : — 

" One word is too often profaned 

For me to profane it ; 
One feeling too falsely disdained 

For thee to disdain it ; 
One hope is too like despair 

For prudence to smother ; 
And pity from thee more dear 

Than that from another." 

The words are few, and there is nothing remarkable in the 
rhythm, yet there is not a line that could have come from 
any pen but Shelley's. 

In these short poems we are clearly conscious of the 
poet's melancholy, a melancholy which in his longer works 
is veiled, or else overpowered by his belief in a bright future, 
his faith in the progress of the human race. The inmost 



2i6 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

recesses of his own being were penetrated by a sadness 
produced by the feeling of the mutability of everything, and 
by early experience of the manner in which feeling leads 
astray, love disappoints, and life deceives. 

He has given imperishable expression to the feeling of 
mutability : — 

" The flower that smiles to-day 

To-morrow dies : 
All that we wish to stay 

Tempts and then flies. 
What is this world's delight? 
Lightning that mocks the night, 

Brief even as bright 

Virtue, how frail it is 1 

Friendship how rare ! 
Love, how it sells poor bliss 

For proud despair ! 
But we, though soon they fall, 
Survive their joy, and all 

Which ours we call. 

Whilst skies are blue and bright, 

Whilst flowers are gay, 
Whilst eyes that change ere night 

Make glad the day, 
Whilst yet the calm hours creep, 
Dream thou — and from thy sleep 

Then wake to weep." 

The first verse indicates the transitoriness of all earthly 
beauty and happiness ; the second, the suffering that lies 
concealed in the very happiness ; and the third is an ex- 
hortation to enjoy the dream of happiness as long as 
possible. 

A mood of like nature has found expression in the in- 
comparable poem which bears the simple title, Lines. This 
poem Shelley could not have written unless one after 
another of his own fond beliefs had evaporated, unless his 
passions for Harriet, for Mary, for Emilia Viviani, had ended 
in a sorrowful awakening. Yet it bears no trace of being a 
personal confession. It is an impassioned proclamation of 



RADICAL NATURALISM 217 

the universal laws of life, first softly hummed, and then sung 
in a voice which has never had its equal. 

" When the lamp is shattered, 
The light in the dust lies dead ; 

When the cloud is scattered, 
The rainbow's glory is shed ; 

When the lute is broken, 
Sweet notes are remembered not ; 

When the lips have spoken, 
Loved accents are soon forgot." 

The lines on the human heart in the third verse are as 
condensed as a couplet of Pope's and as melodious as bars 
of Beethoven : — 

" O, Love, who bewailest 
The frailty of all things here, 

Why chose you the frailest 
For your cradle, your home, and your bier ?" 

And the poem ends with this prophecy, in which we can 
hear the passions that have taken possession of the heart 
taking their wild will with it : — 

" Its passions will rock thee, 
As the storms rock the ravens on high : 

Bright reason will mock thee, 
Like the sun from a wintry sky. 

From thy nest every rafter 
Will rot, and thine eagle home 

Leave thee naked to laughter 
When leaves fall and cold winds come." 

A certain characteristic of Shelley, one which readers who 
know him only from anthologies will at once cite as his 
chief characteristic, seems to be strongly at variance with 
this unexampled personal intensity. I refer to the well- 
known fact that the most famous of his lyric poems are 
inspired by subjects outside of the emotional life, nay, out- 
side of the world of man altogether ; they treat of * 
the cloud and the gale, of the life of the elements, of the 
marvellous freedom and stormy strength of wind and water. 



V 



218 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

They are meteorological and cosmical poems. Yet there is 
no real contradiction in the most intimately emotional of 
lyric poets being, to all appearance, the most occupied with 
externals. We find the reason for it given by Shelley him- 
self in a short essay On Love. He describes the essence of 
love as an irresistible craving for sympathy : li If we reason, 
we would be understood ; if we imagine, we would that the 
airy children of our brain were born anew within another's ; 
if we feel, we would that another's nerves should vibrate to 
our own, that lips of motionless ice should not reply to lips 
quivering and burning with the heart's best blood. This is 
Love . . . The meeting with an understanding capable of 
clearly estimating our own ; an imagination which should 
enter into and seize upon the subtle and delicate peculiarities 
which we have delighted to cherish and unfold in secret . . . 
this is the invisible and unattainable point to which Love 
tends. . . . Hence in solitude, or in that deserted state 
when we are surrounded by human beings, and yet they 
sympathise not with us, we love the flowers, the grass, the 
waters, and the sky. . . . There is eloquence in the tongue- 
less wind, and a melody in the flowing brooks which bring 
tears of mysterious tenderness to the eyes, like the voice of 
one beloved singing to you alone." 

In a note on The IVUch of Atlas, Mrs. Shelley, too, writes 
that it was the certainty of neither being able to arouse the 
sympathy nor win the approbation of his countrymen, in 
combination with a shrinking from opening the wounds of 
his own heart by portraying human passion, which led her 
husband to seek forgetfulness in the airiest flights of 
fancy. 

It was this very craving for a sympathy which his fellow- 
creatures refused him, that made his feeling for nature an 
ardent desire, and gave it its wonderful originality. Such a 
thing was unknown in English poetry. The stiff, artificial 
school of Pope had been superseded by the Lake School. 
Pope had perfumed the air with affectation ; the Lake School 
had thrown open the windows and let in the fresh air of the 
mountains and the sea. But Wordsworth's love of nature 
was passionless, whatever he may say to the contrary in 



RADICAL NATURALISM 219 

Tintern Abbey. Nature was to him an invigorator and a 
suggester of Protestant reflections. That meanest flower 
which gave him thoughts that often lay too deep for tears, 
he put into his buttonhole as an ornament, and looked 
at sometimes in a calmly dignified manner, revolving a 
simile. Shelley flees to nature for refuge when men shut^ 
their doors upon him. He does not, like others, feel it to 
be something entirely outside of himself — cold, or indifferent, 
or cruel. Its stony calm where man's woe and weal are 
concerned, its divine impassibility as regards our life and 
death, our short triumphs and long sufferings, are to him 
benevolence in comparison with man's stupidity and brutality. 
In Peter Bell the Third he jeers at Wordsworth because in the 
latter's love of nature it was " his drift to be a kind of 
moral eunuch " ; he himself loves her like an ardent lover ; 
he has pursued her most secret steps like her shadow ; 
his pulse beats in mysterious sympathy with hers. He 
himself, like his Alastor, resembles "the Spirit of Wind, 
with lightning eyes and eager breath, and feet disturbing 
not the drifted snow." 

He calls animals and plants his beloved brothers and 
sisters, and compares himself, with his keen susceptibility 
and his trembling sensitiveness, to the chameleon and the 
sensitive plant In one of his poems he writes of the 
chameleons, which live on light and air, as the poet does on 
love and fame, and which change their hue with the light 
twenty times a day ; and compares the life led by the poet 
on this cold earth with that which chameleons might lead 
if they were hidden from their birth in a cave beneath the 
sea. And in one of the most famous of all he tells how 

u A Sensitive Plant in a garden grew ; 
And the young winds fed it with silver dew ; 
And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light, 
And closed them beneath the kisses of night 



(And) each (flower) was interpenetrated 
With the light and the odour its neighbour shed, 
Like young lovers whom youth and love make dear, 
Wrapped and filled by their mutual atmosphere. 



220 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

But the Sensitive Plant, which could give small fruit 
Of the love which it felt from the leaf to the root, 
Received more than all ; it loved more than ever, 
Where none wanted but it, could belong to the giver :— 

For the Sensitive Plant has no bright flower ; 
Radiance and odour are not its dower ; 
It loves even like Love, — its deep heart is full ; 
It desires what it has not, the beautiful." 

Even more characteristically, even more personally, does 
Shelley's inmost feeling, his heart's heart, such as it became 
after hard fate had set its stamp upon it, express itself in the 
beautiful elegy on Keats, which was written in a frame of 
burning indignation produced by the base and rancorous 
attack in the Quarterly Review. He is describing how all the 
poets of the day come to weep over their brother's bier : — 

"'Midst others of less note came one frail form, 
A phantom among men, companionless 
As the last cloud of an expiring storm 
Whose thunder is its knell He, as I guess, 
Had gazed on Nature's naked loveliness 
Actaeon-like ; and now he fled astray 

With feeble steps o'er the world's wilderness, 
And his own thoughts along that rugged way 
Pursued like raging hounds their father and their prey. 

A pard-like Spirit beautiful and swift — 

A love in desolation masked — a power 
Girt round with weakness ; it can scarce uplift 

The weight of the superincumbent hour. 

It is a dying lamp, a falling shower, 
A breaking billow ;— even whilst we speak 

Is it not broken ? On the withering flower 
The killing sun smiles brightly : on a cheek 
The life can burn in blood even while the heart may break. 

His head was bound with pansies overblown, 
And faded violets, white and pied and blue ; 

And a light spear topped with a cypress cone, 
Round whose rude shaft dark ivy-tresses grew 
Yet dripping with the forest's noonday dew, 

Vibrated, as the ever-beating heart 

Shook the weak hand that grasped it. Of that crew 

He came the last, neglected and apart ; 
A herd-abandoned deer struck by the hunter's dart. 



RADICAL NATURALISM 221 

All stood aloof, and at his partial moan 

Smiled through their tears. Well knew that gentle band 
Who in another's fate now wept his own. 

As in the accents of an unknown land 

He sang new sorrow, sad Urania scanned 
The Stranger's mien, and murmured, * Who art thou?' 

He answered not, but with a sudden hand 
Made bare his branded and ensanguined brow, 
Which was like Cain's or Christ's— Oh 1 that it should be so." 

Shelley here compares himself to Actaeon, whom the 
sight of Nature's naked loveliness drove distracted. It is 
plain that the strength of his strong will was required to 
keep this man with the fragile, delicate body from positive 
destruction by the visions and apparitions of his imagination. 
He often felt as if they were more than his brain could 
bear ; and when he then, an exile in a foreign land, sought 
alleviation in solitude, he experienced such impressions of 
nature as that which is preserved in the entrancing Stanzas 
Written in Dejection near Naples, stanzas which contain the 
very essence of Shelley's poetry. He does not describe the 
landscape. He never does describe. It is not the outward 
forms and colours of things which he shows us, but that to^ 
which he is extraordinarily alive, what we have called their 
spirit and soul. 

One or two touches, and the Bay is before us : — 

"The sun is warm, the sky is clear, 

The waves are dancing fast and bright ; 
Blue isles and snowy mountains wear 
The purple noon's transparent might" 

The waves break upon the shore "like light dissolved, in 
star-showers thrown." The lightning of the noontide ocean 
is flashing, and a tone arises from its measured motion. 
u How sweet," cries the poet, " did any heart now share in 
my emotion ! " 

" Alas ! I have nor hope nor health, 
Nor peace within nor calm around ; 
Nor that content, surpassing wealth, 
The sage in meditation found, 
And walked with inward glory crowned; 



222 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Nor fame nor power nor love, nor leisure. 

Others I see whom these surround — 

Smiling they live, and call life pleasure ; — 

To me that cup has been dealt in another measure. 

Yet now despair itself is mild, 

Even as the winds and waters are ; 
I could lie down like a tired child, 

And weep away the life of care 

Which I have borne and yet must bear, — 
Till death like sleep might steal on me ; 

And I might feel in the warm air 

My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea 

Breathe o'er my dying brain its last monotony. 

Some might lament that I were cold, 

As I when this sweet day is gone, 
Which my lost heart, too soon grown old, 

Insults with this untimely moan. 

They might lament — for I am one 
Whom men love not, and yet regret ; 

Unlike this day, which, when the sun 
Shall on its stainless glory set, 
Will linger, though enjoyed, like joy in memory yet. M 

The man over whose dying brain cruel waves were so soon 
to close, feels, with a gentle mournfulness, his being dissolve 
into the beneficent elements of nature, and compares his 
last breath to that of the beautiful southern summer day. 
He did not, like Byron, love nature only in its agitated, 
wild moments ; simple of heart himself, he loved its sim- 
plicity, its holy calm. 

But this is not his most characteristic feature. Himself 
of the race of Titans and giants, he loves the Titanic and 
gigantic beauty of nature — his manner of doing so again 
differing entirely from Byron's. It is not the tangible, easily 
accessible poetry of nature, that of the flowers of the field or 
the trees of the forest, which inspires him at his highest. No ! 
the finest inspirations of his great spirit are received from 
the grand and the distant, from the forceful motions of the 
sea and the air and the dance of the spheres in the firmament 
of heaven. In this familiarity with the great phenomena 
and the great vicissitudes of nature Shelley resembles 



RADICAL NATURALISM 223 

Byron, but he resembles him as a fair genius resembles a 
dark, as Ariel resembles Lucifer the Son of the Morning. 

The poetry of the sea was to Byron the poetry of ship- 
wreck, of the raging hurricane, of the insatiable cry of the 
waves for prey ; to him the poetry of the sky lay in the 
howling of the storm, the roaring of the thunder, the crackle 
of the lightning. It is nature as the annihilator that he lives 
with and glories in. The famous passage in the Fourth 
Canto of Childe Harold, beginning : " Roll on, thou deep and 
dark blue Ocean, roll I " is a jubilant record of the sea's 
exploits in sweeping argosies from its surface and sinking 
empires into its depths. It boasts that nothing longer-lived 
than a bubble tells where man has gone down. The passage 
is like a prelude to the magnificent Deluge scene which 
is entitled Heaven and Earth, and which is a glorification 
of the lust of annihilation. 1 

After such verse read Shelley's famous poem, The Cloud. 
In it we hear all the elementary forces of nature playing 
and jesting, with the gaiety of giants, benevolent giants, who 
joy in pouring bounteous gifts upon the earth. What 
freshness in the lines : 

" I bring fresh showers for the thirsty flowers 
From the seas and the streams ; 
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid 
In their noonday dreams." 

How wanton is the cloud when it sings : 

" I wield the flail of the lashing hail 
And whiten the green plains under ; 
And then again I dissolve it in rain, 

And laugh as I pass in thunder. 
I sift the snow on the mountains below, 
And their great pines groan aghast ; 
And all the night 'tis my pillow white, 
While I sleep in the arms of the Blast" 



And 



« 



The volcanoes are dim, and the stars reel and swim, 
When the Whirlwinds my banner unfurl.'' 

1 Swinburne, who in his masterly little essay on Byron points out that Byron 
and Shelley were engrossed by the same natural phenomena, does not note the 
difference which existed along with the similarity. 



224 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

How proud when it shouts : 

u The sanguine Sunrise, with his meteor eyes, 
And his burning plumes outspread, 
Leaps on the back of my sailing rack, 
When the morning star shines dead. 9 

What calm is in this : 

" And, when Sunset may breathe, from the lit sea beneath, 

Its ardours of rest and of love, 
And the crimson pall of eve may fall 

From the depth of heaven above, 
With wings folded I rest on mine airy nest, 

As still as a brooding dove." 

What consciousness of power in : 

" From cape to cape, with a bridge-like shape, 

Over a torrent sea, 
Sunbeam-proof, I hang like a roof; 

The mountains its columns be. 
The triumphal arch through which I march 

With hurricane, fire, and snow, 
When the Powers of the air are chained to my chair, 

Is the million-coloured bow." 

Yet the real spirit of the Cloud is playfulness, the playfulness 
of a child. Even when the sun has swept it from the sky, 
it only laughs : — 

" I silently laugh at my own cenotaph, — 
And out of the caverns of rain, 
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb, 
I arise, and unbuild it again. 1 ' 

It is not only the unlikeness to Byron's gloomy passion 
which strikes us in the sublime childlikeness and bounty and 
all-embracing love of this Cloud ; there is another character- 
istic in this poetry, which we shall merely mention here, and 
devote more attention to later, namely, its antique, its 
absolutely primitive, spirit. We are reminded of the most 
ancient Aryan poetry of nature, of the Vedas, of Homer. 



RADICAL NATURALISM 225 

In comparison with this, Byron is altogether modern. 
When the Cloud sings: 

"That orbed maiden with white fire laden 

Whom mortals call the Moon, 
Glides glimmering o'er my fleece-like floor 

By the midnight breezes strewn ! 
And wherever the beat of her unseen feet 

Which only the angels hear, 
May have broken the woof of my tent's thin roof, 

The Stars peep behind her and peer ; " 

and when it speaks of "the sanguine Sunrise, with his 
meteor eyes/' the poet transports us, by the primitive fresh- 
ness of his imagination, back to the time when the pheno- 
mena of nature in all their newness were transformed into 
myths. 

To Shelley these phenomena were ever new. He lived 
among them in a way which no poet had done before or has 
done since. By far the greater part of his short life of 
thrity years was spent under the open sky. The sea was 
his passion ; he was constantly sailing ; his most beautiful 
poems were written while he lay in his boat with the sun 
beating on him, browning his soulful face and delicate 
hands. It was a passion that was the pleasure of his life 
and the cause of his death. Everything that had to do 
with boats and sailing had an attraction for him. He 
had a childlike hobby for floating paper boats ; it is said 
that on one occasion, having no other paper at hand, he 
launched a .£50 bank-note on the pond in Kensington 
Gardens. 

He never learned to swim. At the time when he was 
constantly, by day and by night, sailing on the Lake of Geneva 
with Lord Byron, their boat was once very nearly upset. 
Shelley refused all help, and calmly prepared himself to go 
down. " I felt in this near prospect of death," he afterwards 
wrote, u a mixture of sensations, among which terror entered, 
though but subordinately. My feelings would have been 
less painful had I been alone, but I knew that my companion 
would have attempted to save me, and I was overcome with 

vol. iv. p 



>/ 



226 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

humiliation when I thought that his life might have been 
risked to preserve mine." A few years later he had no 
painful feelings at all in contemplating such an end. When, 
some months before his death, Trelawny rescued him from 
drowning, all he said was : " It's a great temptation ; if old 
women's tales are true, in another minute I might have been 
in another planet." 

In Italy he lived in the open air ; now he would be 
riding with Byron in the country near Venice, Ravenna, or 
Pisa ; now spending whole days in a rowing-boat on the 
Arno or the Serchio; now out at sea in his yacht. It is 
interesting to observe how frequently a boat serves him as a 
simile. He wrote often out at sea, very seldom under 
the shelter of a roof. Prometheus he wrote in Rome, upon 
the mountainous ruins of the Baths of Caracalla ; wandering 
among the thickets of odoriferous trees on the immense 
platforms and dizzy arches, he was inspired by the bright 
blue sky of Rome and the vigorous, almost intoxicating, 
awakening of spring in that glorious climate. The Triumph 
of Life he wrote partly on the roof of his house at 
Lerici, partly lying out in a boat during the most over- 
powering heat and drought. Shelley belonged to the sala- 
mander species; broiling sunshine was what suited him 
best. 

It was while lying in a grove on the banks of the Arno, 
near Florence, that he wrote the most magnificent of his 
poems, the Ode to the West Wind. 

In its first stanza the wind is the breath of autumn, 
driving the dead leaves, " yellow, and black, and pale, and 
hectic red, pestilence-stricken multitudes " ; and of spring, 
filling "with living hues and odours plain and hill" — we 
hear it blowing, and we hear its echo in the appealing 
refrain : " Hear, oh hear ! " 

In the second stanza we are again reminded of the old 
mythologies, when the poet sings of the loose clouds on the 
Wind's stream, " shook from the tangled boughs of heaven 
and ocean," and of " the locks of the storm " spread on the 
blue surface of the airy surge lt like the bright hair uplifted 
from the head of some fierce Maenad." 



RADICAL NATURALISM 227 

But along with the breath of the West Wind we have 
Shelley's whole soul in the final outburst : 

" Oh 1 lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud I 
I fall upon the thorns of life 1 I bleed I 
A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed 
One too like thee — tameless, and swift, and proud. 

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is : 
What if my leaves are foiling like its own ? 
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies 
Will take from both a deep autumnal tone, 
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce, 
My spirit ! be thou me, impetuous one 1 
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe, 
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth ; 
And, by the incantation of this verse, 
Scatter as from an unextinguished hearth 
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind 1 
Be through my lips to unawakened earth 
The trumpet of a prophecy ! O Wind, 
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind ? N 

Compare this Ode with the beautiful passage in the 
Third Canto of Childe Harold, in which Byron cries : 

" Could I embody and unbosom now 
That which is most within me,— could I wreak 
My thoughts upon expression, and thus throw 
Soul, heart, mind, passions, feelings, strong or weak, 
All that I would have sought, and all I seek, 
Bear, know, feel, and yet breathe — into one word, 
And that one word were Lightning, I would speak ; 
But as it is, I live and die unheard, 

With a most voiceless thought, sheathing it as a sword." 

Or with his apostrophe to night, during the wild storm on 
the Lake of Geneva : — 

" Most glorious night I 

Thou wert not sent for slumber 1 let me be 

A sharer in thy fierce and far delight, — 

A portion of the tempest and of thee 1 " 

There could not be a better example of the difference 
between the attitude towards nature of an all-embracing and 
an all-defying poetic intellect. Shelley does not, like Byron, 



228 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

desire to possess himself of her thunderbolts. He loves 
her, not as his weapon, but as his lyre ; loves her, unappalled 
by her gigantic proportions, familiar with her prodigious 
forces, feeling that the universe is his home. His imagina- 
tion delights in occupying itself with the heavenly bodies ; 
he is fascinated by their beauty and life as others are by the 
beauty of the forget-me-not and the rose. 

What powerful, all-compelling imagination in the poem 
which he writes on hearing of the death of Napoleon 1 

14 What 1 alive and so bold, O Earth ? 

Art thou not over-bold? 

What 1 leapest thou forth as of old 
In the light of thy morning mirth, 

The last of the dock of the starry fold? 

Ha 1 leapest thou forth as of old ? 
Are not the limbs still when the ghost is fled, 
And canst thou move, Napoleon being dead ? 

How 1 is not thy quick heart cold ? 

What spark is alive on thy hearth ? 
How 1 is not his death-knell knolled, 

And livest thou still, Mother Earth? 
Thou wert warming thy fingers old 
O'er the embers covered and cold 
Of that most fiery spirit, when it fled — 
What, Mother, dost thou laugh now he is dead? 

' Still alive and still bold/ shouted Earth, 
' I grow bolder and still more bold. 
The dead fill me ten thousandfold 
Fuller of speed and splendour and mirth. 
I was cloudy and sullen and cold, 
Like a frozen chaos uprolled, 
Till by the spirit of the mighty dead 
My heart grew warm : I feed on whom I fed.'* 

With the eyes of his soul Shelley beheld the soulfed 
y spheres circling in space, glowing within, sparkling without, 
lighting up the night; his gaze sounded the unfathomable 
abysses where verdant worlds and comets with glittering 
hair, and pale, ice-cold moons, glide past each other. He 
compares them to the drops of dew which fill the flower 
chalices in the morning ; he sees them whirl, world after 



RADICAL NATURALISM 229 

world, from their genesis to their annihilation, like bubbles 
on a stream, glittering, bursting, and yet immortal, ever 
generating new beings, new laws, new gods, bright or 
sombre — garments wherewith to hide the nakedness of 
death. He sees them as Raphael painted them in Rome in 
the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, each governed and 
guided by its angel ; and, wielding the absolute poetic power 
of his imagination, he assigns to the unfortunate Keats, lately 
dead, the throne of a yet kingless sphere. 

His Witch of Atlas has her home in the ether. Like 
Arion on the dolphin, she rides on a cloud, " singing through 
the shoreless air," and " laughs to hear the fire-balls near 
behind." In this poem Shelley plays with the heavenly 
bodies like a juggler with his balls ; in Prometheus Unbound 
he opens them as the botanist opens a flower. In the 
Fourth Act of Prometheus the earth is represented transparent 
as crystal ; the secrets of its deep heart are laid bare ; we 
see its wells of unfathomed fire, its " water-springs, whence 
the great sea even as a child is fed," its mines, its buried 
trophies and ruins and cities. Shelley's genius hovers over 
its surface, inhaling the fragrant exhalations of the forests, 
watching the emerald light reflected from the leaves, and 
listening to the music of the spheres. But to him the earth 
is not a solid, composite sphere ; it is a living spirit, in whose 
unknown depths there slumbers an unheard voice, the silence 
of which is broken when Prometheus is unbound. 

When Jupiter has fallen, has sunk into the abyss, the 
Earth and the Moon join in an exulting antiphon, a hymn 
of praise that has not its equal. The Earth exults over its 
deliverance from the tyranny of the Deity ; the Moon sings 
its burning, rapturous love-song to the Earth — tells how 
mute and still it becomes, how full of love, when it is 
covered by the shadow of the Earth. Its barrenness is at 
an end : — 

" Green stalks burst forth, and bright flowers grow. 
And living shapes upon my bosom move : 
Music is in the sea and air, 
Winged clouds soar here and there, 
Dark with the rain new buds are dreaming of : 
'Tis Love, all Love 1" 



230 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Shelley's imagination resolves nature into its elements, 
and rejoices over each of them with the naivet6 of a child. 
The Witch of Atlas delights in fire : — 

" Men scarcely know how beautiful fire is ; 
Each flame of it is as a precious stone 
Dissolved in ever-moving light, and this 
Belongs to each and all who gaze thereon." 

And she loves the beauty of sleep : — 

" A pleasure sweet doubtless it was to see 
Mortals subdued in all the shapes of sleep. 

Here lay two sister-twins in infancy ; 
There a lone youth who in his dreams did weep ; 

Within, two lovers linked innocently 
In their loose locks which over both did creep 

Like ivy from one stem ; and there lay calm 

Old age with snow-bright hair and folded palm." 

Shelley feels with the streams, which are loved by the sea 
and disappear in his depths ; he sings by the death-bed and 
bier of nature in autumn and winter; he remembers the 
flowers that were strewn over Adonis ; he describes the goddess 
of the summer and of beauty, who (like a female Balder) 
tends the flowers of the gardens ; and he paints the progress 
of the Spirits of the Hours through the heavens (Arethusa, 
Hymn of Apollo, Hymn of Pan, Autumn, The Sensitive Plant, 
the Hours in Prometheus Unbound). 

For everything in life and nature he has found the fitting 
poetic word — for the waste and solitary places, 



for time, 



"Where we taste 
The pleasure of believing what we see 
Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be* ; 

" Unfathomable sea, whose waves are years ! 
Ocean of time, whose waters of deep woe 
Are brackish with the salt of human tears ! " 



for snow, " and all the forms of the radiant frost." 

The whole poem in which these last words occur ought 
to be read. Into it, in a sad mood, he has compressed all 
his love of nature. It is called simply Song, and is addressed 



RADICAL NATURALISM 231 

to the Spirit of Delight. This Spirit, the poet complains, has 
deserted him ; it forgets all but those who need it not ; and 
such an one as he, can never win it back again, for it is dis- 
mayed with sorrow, and reproach it will not hear. Yet, he 
goes on to say, 

44 1 love all that thou lovest, 

Spirit of Delight 1 
The fresh earth in new leaves dressed, 

And the starry night, 
Autumn evening, and the morn 
When the golden mists are born. 

I love snow, and all the forms 

Of the radiant frost ; 
I love waves and winds and storms,— 

Everything almost 
Which is Nature's, and may be 
Untainted by man's misery. 

I love tranquil solitude, 

And such society 
As is quiet, wise, and good. 

Between thee and me 
What difference ? But thou dost possess 
The things I seek, not love them less." 

But Shelley's spirit rises on the wings of his sublime 
enthusiasm for liberty high into the clear air above all these 
mournful moods. His ode To a Skylark, the poem which 
indicates the transition to the poetry of liberty, is written in 
a perfect intoxication of joy and freedom from care. It is 
almost safe to assert that there had been nothing in the older 
English literature finer in its way than the best of Words- 
worth's songs to the lark, which are so typical of the spirit 
and art of the Lake School. 

" Leave to the nightingale her shady wood; 
A privacy of glorious light is thine," 

writes Wordsworth ; and, as the true conservative poet, he 
goes on to apostrophise the lark as 

u Type of the wise, who soar, but never roam — 
True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home." 



232 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Turn from this to Shelley's lark : — 

" Like a cloud of fire 
The blue deep thou wingest, 
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest* 

We seem to hear all the winds ringing with its "shrill 
delight," and seem to glide into and be engulfed by a sea of 
eternally fresh melody. This is the youngest, freshest, 
gladdest paean of the pure spirit of freedom. It forms the 
transition to the long series of poems of freedom, the great 
group of works in which Shelley's genius is the loud herald 
of the approaching revolutions. His poetry of freedom 
is one long war-cry, garbed in ever-changing melodies. 
Whether it takes the shape of odes to liberty and its cham- 
pions (poems as beautiful and grand as the Marseillaise), of 
political satires levelled at customs or persons, of Aristo- 
phanic comedy ridiculing the abuses and follies of the day 
in England, or of mythical or historical tragedy, it is in its 
essence always the same mighty wail over injustice and hypo- 
crisy, the same powerful appeal to all of his contemporaries 
who were still capable of feeling anything whatsoever a 
degradation. 

Immediately after his first marriage Shelley began to 
play the part of a political agitator. He went to Dublin 
to further the cause of Catholic emancipation, wrote a very 
juvenile address to the Irish people, in which he besought 
them to refrain from the violent deeds with which the French 
Revolution had been stained, and was childish enough to 
throw down copies of it from the balcony of his hotel, in 
front of any of the passers-by who looked as if they might 
be responsive. We gain some idea of the childish spirit 
in which both he and his young wife regarded the matter, 
from reading that, one day when they were walking together, 
he could not resist amusing himself by popping the address 
into the hood of a lady's cloak, a performance which made 
his wife, as she herself writes, "almost die of laughing." 
Shelley attended several political meetings, and on one 
occasion spoke for more than an hour in the presence of 



RADICAL NATURALISM 233 

O'Connell and other celebrities. The accounts of his 
eloquence given by contemporaries are so enthusiastic that 
they might almost lead us to believe him to have been 
even greater as an orator than as a poet. 

The next time Shelley came into collision with the party 
in power, the collision was of a much more violent and 
tragic nature. Harriet was dead, and her father had filed 
a petition in Chancery to determine which was the fit and 
proper person to educate her children — he, their grandfather, 
the retired hotel-keeper, or their father, Shelley, the author 
of Queen Mab and A /as tor, who was accused of atheism, 
and would in all probability bring up his children as 
atheists. 

Lord Eldon's judgment was to the effect that, seeing 
that Shelley's conduct had hitherto been highly immoral, 
and that, far from being ashamed of this, he was proud 
of his immoral principles and tried to impress them upon 
others, the law was in its right in depriving him entirely 
of the custody of his children, and at the same time decree- 
ing that he should be deprived of a fifth of his income for 
their maintenance. The children were placed in charge 
of a clergyman of the Church of England. Shelley felt this 
blow so terribly that even his most intimate friends never 
dared speak of the children to him. 

In his poem To the Lord Chancellor, he cries : 



" I curse thee by a parent's outraged love ; 

By hopes long cherished and too lately lost ; 
By gentle feelings thou could'st never prove ; 
By griefs which thy stern nature never crossed. 



By the false cant which on their innocent lips 
Must hang like poison on an opening bloom ; 

By the dark creeds which cover with eclipse 
Their pathway from the cradle to the tomb. 

(By) the despair which bids a father groan, 
And cry, ' My children are no longer mine ; 

The blood within those veins may be my own, 
But, tyrant, their polluted souls are thine.' ' 



234 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

And in the poem to William Shelley, his little son by Mary, 
he writes : 

" They have taken thy brother and sister dear, 

They have made them unfit for thee ; 
They have withered the smile and dried the tear 

Which should have been sacred to me. 
To a blighting faith and a cause of crime 
They have bound them slaves in youthly time ; 
And they will curse my name and thee 
Because we are fearless and free. 



Fear not the tyrants will rule for ever, 

Or the priests of the evil faith ; 
They stand on the brink of that raging river 

Whose waves they have tainted with death. 
It is fed from the depths of a thousand dells, 
Around them it foams and rages and swells ; 
And their swords and their sceptres I floating see 
Like wrecks, on the surge of eternity." 

Fearing that this son of his second marriage might also 
be taken from him, Shelley left his native country, never to 
return. At the time when the Lord Chancellor was brand- 
ing him as less fit for the most rudimentary duties of social 
life than any other man in England, he was preparing to 
prove that he was one of the few men then in existence who 
were predestined to immortality. He left England, stamped 
as a criminal, and most of the Englishmen whom he met 
abroad feared and hated him as capable of any crime. He 
appears to have been actually once or twice subjected to 
personal molestation. 

As already mentioned, Shelley in 1817 published a 
pamphlet on the subject of Parliamentary Reform. As a 
proof of the moderation and practicability of the views 
elaborated in its pages, it need only be mentioned that the 
Tories in 1867 passed almost the very scheme of Reform 
which the " atheist and republican " had planned fifty years 
before. He "disavowed any wish to establish universal 
suffrage at once, or to do away with monarchy and aristo- 
cracy." And on many other occasions he declared himself 
to be against precipitate changes. His Radicalism consisted 
simply in his being fifty years ahead of his day. 



RADICAL NATURALISM 235 

Attacked and persecuted by the narrow-minded society 
of the period, Shelley now hurled his poems of liberty at 
England. His political poems are written with his blood. 
The employment of such similes for Castlereagh and Sid- 
mouth as " two bloodless wolves whose dry throats rattle " 
and "two vipers tangled into one/' was allowable in his 
case. It must not be forgotten that to him Castlereagh, 
Sidmouth, and Eldon, were not men, but personifications of 
a principle — of the great, fateful principle of reaction to which 
his career and his happiness had been sacrificed. He writes 
in The Masque of Anarchy : 

w I met Murder on the way — 
He had a mask like Castlereagh. 
Very smooth he looked, yet grim ; 
Seven bloodhounds followed him. 



Clothed with the bible as with light, 
And the shadows of the night, 
Like Sidmouth next, Hypocrisy 
On a crocodile came by. 

One fled past, a maniac maid, 
And her name was Hope, she said, 
But she looked more like Despair ; 
And she cried out in the air : 

• My father Time is weak and grey 
With waiting for a better day ; 
See how idiot-like he stands, 
Fumbling with his palsied hands I 

1 He has had child after child, 
And the dust of death is piled 
Over every one but me — 
Misery I oh Misery I ' p 

It was not, however, only in bellicose lyrics that Shelley 
incorporated his political and social ideas and passions at 
this period. In the year 1818 he wrote two very charac- 
teristic narrative poems, Julian and Maddalo and Rosalind and 
Helen. The first-mentioned gives a vivid description of the 
poet's life in Venice with Byron, and affords one of the 
many proofs of his noble and ardent admiration for Byron's 



236 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

poetry. It contains an account of a visit paid by the two 
friends to a lunatic asylum in the neighbourhood of Venice, 
and describes the impression produced upon Shelley. The 
man "whose heart a stranger's tear might wear as water- 
drops the sandy fountain-stone," and who " could moan for 
woes which others hear not," could not but be deeply moved 
by compassion for the unfortunates who at that time were 
still kept in fetters and punished by flogging. 

We gain the best idea of the utter want of understanding 
of mental disease in those days, and the barbarity displayed 
in its treatment, from reading of the manner in which an 
insane patient of such rank as King George the Third was 
treated in 1798. The King's mental alienation displayed 
itself chiefly in excessive talkativeness ; there was no inclina- 
tion to any kind of violence. Nevertheless from the very 
beginning, and throughout the whole duration of the attack, 
he was kept in a strait-waistcoat, was closely confined, 
deprived of the use of knife and fork, and subjected to the 
whims of his pages, who knocked him about, struck him, 
and used abusive language to him. All this is known 
because the King retained a distinct remembrance after his 
recovery of what had happened during his illness. 

Shelley's gentleness and love of his fellow-men are evident 
y in the plea which he, ignorant of the humaner treatment of 
the insane inaugurated in France during the Revolution, 
utters for these afflicted ones : 

" Methinks there were 
A cure of these with patience and kind care, 
If music thus can move." 

The second poem, Rosalind and Helen, which gives a 
/ powerful general impression of the misery which prejudice 
and intolerance have brought upon the human race, has not 
hitherto been properly understood or valued according to its 
deserts. It attempts to give a comprehensive representation 
of all that truly good and liberal-minded human beings have 
to suffer from antiquated ideas and principles in combination 
with human malignity. We have the description of a father 
\. who was a coward to the strong, a tyrant to the weak ; hard, 



RADICAL NATURALISM 237 

selfish, false, rapacious ; the torturer of his wife and terror of <- 
his children, who became pale and silent if they heard, or 
thought they heard, his footstep on the stair. He dies, and 
Rosalind, the mother, is distressed because her children 
involuntarily rejoice at their father's death, and because she 
herself cannot but feel it to be a relief. The dead man had 
been strictly orthodox. He has, as it appears when his will is 
read, decreed that the children shall inherit nothing if they 
continue to live with their mother, because she secretly holds 
the Christian creed to be false, and he must save his children 
from eternal fire. The mother feels that she must leave her 
children. " Thou know'st," she says — 

u Thou know'st what a thing is poverty 

Among the fallen on evil days. 
Tis crime, and fear, and infamy, 

And houseless want in frozen ways 
Wandering ungarmented, and pain, 
And, worse than all, that inward stain, 
Foul self-contempt, which drowns in sneers 
Youth's starlight smile, and makes its tears 
First hot like gall, then dry for ever. 
And well thou know'st a mother never 
Could doom her children to this ill, — 
And well he knew the same." 

Rosalind's fate serves, above all else, to show the misery 
of an unhappy marriage, more particularly the wife's con- 
dition of dependence on a bad and tyrannical husband. 
Shelley's own grief over the loss of his children is also 
distinctly perceptible in the poem ; and Helen's fate recalls 
the persecution to which the author in his character of 
philosopher was subjected. The whole representation of 
Lionel's life and ideas is self-representation. Could there be 
a better description of Shelley's own love of his fellow-man 
than this : — 

" For love and life in him were twins, 
Born at one birth. In every other, 
First life, then love, its course begins, 
Though they be children of one mother." 

Young, rich, well-born, Lionel at the time of the Revolution 
enthusiastically takes his place in the ranks of the reformers 



238 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

whose aim it is to emancipate humanity from the tyranny of 

creeds. 

" Men wondered, and some sneered to see 

One sow what he could never reap : 
1 For he is rich, 1 they said, ' and young, 

And might drink from the depths of luxury. 
If he seeks Fame, Fame never crowned 

The champion of a trampled creed : 
If he seeks Power, Power is enthroned 

'Mid ancient rights and wrongs, to feed 
Which hungry wolves with praise and spoil 
Those who would sit near Power must toil.'* 

The reaction comes : 

" None now hoped more. Grey Power was seated 

Safely on her ancestral throne ; 
And Faith, the python, undefeated, 

Even to its blood-stained steps dragged on 
Her foul and wounded train ; and men 
Were trampled and deceived again." 

Lionel's enemies succeed in imprisoning him because he has 
blasphemed their gods. He passes a long time in solitary 
confinement, separated from the woman he loves. Then he 
meets her again, and they celebrate their nuptials under the 
starry sky. 

Rosalind and Helen is a poem which bears traces of having 
been written in a mood of profound despair; in no other 
work does Shelley go to such extremes in his war upon 
all traditional law and convention. We have, in a previous 
volume of this work, touched upon the fact that many 
writers at the beginning of this century occupied them- 
selves with the theory that the horror of incest has its 
source in prejudice. Both in Rosalind and Helen and in The 
Revolt of Islam, the hero and heroine of which would, but 
for the earnest entreaties of the publisher, have been brother 
and sister, Shelley wasted much eloquence on this sinister 
paradox — which also greatly occupied Byron's mind, and 
was to give occasion to a foolish and revolting attack upon 
his memory. 

The year 1820 was the year of the scandalous royal 
divorce case. On the 8th of April 1798, the Prince Regent, 



RADICAL NATURALISM 239 

compelled by his position to marry, had wedded Princess 
Caroline of Brunswick. So little regard did he show from 
the very beginning for even the decencies of the situation, 
that at their first meeting in St. James's Palace, when the 
Princess was kneeling before him, he called to Lord 
Malmesbury : " Get me a glass of brandy ! I don't feel 
well." Lord Malmesbury asked if a glass of water would 
not be preferable, upon which the Prince rushed out of the 
room, swearing, without a word to his fiancee. He was 
drunk at the wedding, and hiccupped incessantly during the 
ceremony. Ere long he was not content with displaying 
the utmost indifference to his wife and slighting her by his 
liaisons with numbers of other women, but actually treated 
her with great brutality — kept her in confinement, surrounded 
her with spies, and, on the ground of a false accusation, 
took her daughter from her, a proceeding which gave 
occasion to constant scenes at court. The Princess's con- 
duct does not seem to have been long irreproachable. She 
was at first only incautious, but in course of time sought 
consolation in behaviour which was neither blameless nor 
dignified. At the age of fifty she was travelling all over 
Europe in the company of her courier and chamberlain 
Bergami — a man who had formerly been her footman — an 
Italian Ruy Bias, on whom she conferred one honour and 
order after another, and whom she loved devotedly. 

When, at the time of her husband's accession to the 
throne, she returned to England, expecting to be crowned 
Queen, the miserable, contemptible sovereign determined to 
employ, in procuring a divorce, all the evidence against her 
which he had obtained by means of paid spies. She was 
accused before the House of Lords of unfaithfulness. 
Whole shiploads of foreign hotel waiters and chamber- 
maids were landed in England amidst the angry demon- 
strations of the populace, to give witness against the Queen. 
Anything more indecent than this trial it would be difficult 
to find. Investigations into the positions of bedrooms and 
beds, descriptions of the clothing or absence of clothing of a 
Queen and her chamberlain, filled the English newspapers 
day after day until — the accusation was withdrawn ; partly 



240 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

on account of the supposed insufficiency of the proofs, 
partly on account of the pitch which public contempt for 
the King, as the author of the scandal, had reached. 

It was this divorce case which gave occasion to Shelley's 
excellent satire, (Edipus Tyrannus, or Swellfoot the Tyrant, an 
essay in political comedy. The action of the play passes in 
Boeotia. A people, who call themselves Bulls (/.*• John Bulls), 
nevertheless make their appearance as pigs ; consequently, 
the nature and power and spirit of the English are com- 
prehensively expressed by the word piggishness ; — 

u The taxes, that true source of piggishness 
(How can I find a more appropriate term 
To include religion, morals, peace, and plenty, 
And all that fit Boeotia as a nation 
To teach the other nations how to live?) 
Increase with piggishness itsel£" 

The hypocrisy of the royal husband, the Queen's impudent 
asseverations of her own chastity, the hypocritical attitude 
of Castlereagh and Sidmouth — all this is caricatured with 
the pen of a master. 

But Shelley's genius was not of a nature to spend much 
of its force in satirising the distortions of the age. Untram- 
melled and ethereal, it was supremely fitted to present to 
the intellects of the day a glorious conception of the cen- 
tury's ideal of liberty. 

And from his boyhood this had been the aim of all 
Shelley's endeavours. His first works were long, melodious, 
but, unfortunately, formless poems, which are in their 
essence protests against kings and priests, against the 
religions which "people the earth with fiends, hell with 
men, and heaven with slaves," against the injustice of 
governments and the servility of the administrators of the 
law, against compulsory marriages, against the exclusion of 
women from free competition in bread-winning occupations, 
against cruelty in the slaughtering of animals. They are 
protests, in short, against every form of oppression and 
intolerance, written with no less ambitious an aim than the 
reformation of humanity, which is to be brought about by 



RADICAL NATURALISM 241 

showing it how it may remove the causes of its misfortunes 
and attain to a state which, in comparison with the existing, 
would be a true golden age. 

Shelley had, as he himself laughingly acknowledges, " a 
passion for reforming the world." In spite of his aversion 
for didactic poetry, it was (as he puts it in the preface to 
The Revolt of Islam) his object to excite in his reader a 
generous impulse, an ardent thirst for excellence. 

11 The panic," he writes, " which, like an epidemic tran- 
sport, seized upon all classes of men during the excesses 
consequent upon the French Revolution, is gradually giving 
place to sanity. It has ceased to be believed that whole 
generations of mankind ought to consign themselves to a 
hopeless inheritance of ignorance and misery, because a 
nation of men who had been dupes and slaves for centuries 
were incapable of conducting themselves with the wisdom 
and tranquillity of freemen so soon as some of their fetters 
were partially loosened. ... If the Revolution had been in 
every respect prosperous, then misrule and superstition 
would lose half their claims to our abhorrence, as fetters 
which the captive can unlock with the slightest motion of 
his fingers, and which do not eat with poisonous rust into 
the soul." 

Shelley's purpose was to set forth the principles of the 
Revolution in a transfigured form. Hence his poetry 
became a sermon ; his imagination embodied, not his ob- 
servations, but his wishes. 

He was firmly persuaded that imagination is the true 
reformatory power. The man whom crass ignorance has 
reviled as a materialist had, in the school of Hume and 
Berkeley, saturated himself with the extremest idealism. 
To him everything was thought — things were layers of 
thoughts ; the universe itself was but a gigantic coagula- 
tion of old thoughts, images, ideas. Hence it is that the 
poet, whose calling it is to create new imagery of the kind 
which makes the strongest impression, is always agitating, 
disturbing, remodelling the world. "Imagination," says 
Shelley, "is the faculty of human nature on which every 
gradation of its progress — nay, every, the minutest, change — 

VOL. IV, Q 



/ 



242 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

depends." Either by gently inducing the congealed ideas 
to flow again, or by forcibly breaking through the crust of 
outworn opinions, the poet shows himself to be the true 
reformer. 

In his youth devoted to philosophy, but indifferent to 
history, Shelley, during the one completed period of his 
life — that preceding the writing of The Cenci — sought no 
foundation in time or space for his visions of reformation ; 
being merely desires, they had no historic reality. And this 
deficiency entails the absence of various essential qualities 
in his personages, which only historical and local relations 
can confer. The qualities they do possess are mainly 
the deepest seated, original qualities of human nature. 
In constructing his characters, he goes back to the 
earliest records of the race. They are half mystical 
personages — gigantic, vaguely outlined, spiritualised figures ; 
no ordinary human sympathies can lay hold of them, for 
the reason that "history" — what the ordinary mind 
regards as the interesting element in a poem — is despised 
and ignored by Shelley. Hence his unsuitability for the 
multitude. An author like Sir Walter Scott will never 
cease to find a public among all who can read ; Shelley will 
always be the author only of the few elect. 

When, however, Shelley chooses a theme suited to his 
peculiar turn of mind he produces poetry of the very 
highest rank. His productive gift, from the point of view 
from which we are now considering it, was of the Greek 
type ; and the same may be said of his religious feeling 
and of the whole development of his imaginative and 
reasoning powers. "We are all Greeks," he says some- 
where. It was true of himself. 

It was, however, only the earliest Greek poetry which 
treated of such natural phenomena, such gods, and such 
heroes as we find in Shelley's ; therefore it is only with it 
that his is to be compared. Shelley's lyrics remind us of the 
Homeric hymns ; his political comedy recalls Aristophanes 
both by its reckless satire and the lyric vigour of its songs, 
and is worthy of comparison with Aristophanes ; it remains 
to ]t>e told that in serious drama he was a worthy rival of 



RADICAL NATURALISM 243 

iEschylus. His Prometheus Unbound is the modern counter- 
part of the Greek tragedian's Prometheus Bound; his Hellas, 
a prophecy of the triumph of Greece, the modern counterpart 
of The Persians. 

Let us linger for a moment over Prometheus, the magni— ' 
ficent poem in which his poetry of freedom culminates. In 
Prometheus, Shelley at last found, and succeeded in re- 
presenting, the typical figure of his poetry and his period. 
Many types had passed through his mind, amongst others 
Job and Tasso, who at this time were also engrossing 
the imagination of Byron and Goethe. He chose Pro- 
metheus. High above the lakes and hills of contempo- 
raneous English poetry, Byron's Alps with his Manfred, 
and Shelley's Caucasus with his Prometheus, soar into 
the sky. 

Ever since the emancipation of the human mind had 
begun in real earnest, this typical figure had given occupa- 
tion to all the great poets. It suggests itself about the 
beginning of our century to Goethe, Byron, and Shelley. 
Goethe's beautiful poem represents the labours, the artistic 
productivity, of the human spirit which has freed itself from 
faith in gods — the man, proud of his hut, which no god 
built for him, occupied in forming figures in his own image. 
Goethe's Prometheus is the creative and free. Byron's 
hard, short, fiery lines describe the martyr who suffers 
with clenched teeth, silently ; from whom no torture can 
extract confession, and whose ambition it is that no one 
shall divine his sufferings ; this is a Titan who would never, 
in the manner of the Prometheus of the ancients, have 
accepted consolation from the daughters of Oceanus or 
told his woes to them. Byron's is the defiant and bound 
Prometheus. 

Shelley's resembles neither of these. His is the beneficent 
human spirit which, warring with the principle of evil, is for 
an immeasurable length of time held in subjugation and 
tortured by it — and not by it alone, but by all other beings, s 
even the good, who are fooled into accepting evil as necessary 
and right. He is the spirit who can only for a time be 
imprisoned and fettered ; long as that time may be, the day 



244 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

comes when, to the joy of all, he is released — he is Pro- 
metheus unbound, Prometheus triumphant, greeted by the 
acclamations of all the elements and all the heavenly 
spheres. 

Even during his sufferings he is perfectly calm ; for he 
knows that Jupiter's reign is but a passing period in the life 
of the universe. He would not exchange his place of 
• torture for all the voluptuous joys of Jupiter's court. When 
the Furies " laugh into his lidless eyes," and threaten him, 
he only says : 

" I weigh not what ye do, but what ye suffer, 
Being evil." 

How differently a Byronic Prometheus would have an- 
swered 1 This Titan is full of love — love for his enemies 
and for the whole human race. Nor have his sufferings 
closed his heart to the more earthly love passion. In the 
midst of his agony he remembers his bride — 

" Asia, who, when my being overflowed, 
Wert like a golden chalice to bright wine. 09 

Asia is nature herself, who loves the Titan. She is the child 
of light, the life of life, whose 

" lips enkindle 
With their love the breath between them, 
And whose smiles, before they dwindle, 
Make the cold air fire." 

When the age of suffering and injustice has passed, Jupiter 
sinks into the abyss of eternity, with cowardly wails and 
supplications to Prometheus to have mercy on him. The 
Promethean age begins ; the air becomes a sea of sweet, 
eternally new love melodies ; the mighty, deep-toned jubila- 
tion of the Earth is heard in alternation with the Moon's 
^enchanting song of bliss; and then the whole universe 
chimes in in a chorus of rejoicing unsurpassed even by that 
with which Beethoven's Ninth Symphony ends. 

We cannot do much more than allude to the fact that 



RADICAL NATURALISM 245 

Shelley, after competing with iEschylus, began to produce 
on Shakespeare's lines. Taking a sudden excursion into the 
realms of history, he gave England what even Byron pro- 
nounced to be the best tragedy written by any of her sons 
since the days of Shakespeare. The Cenci reminds the reader • 
slightly of such a play as Measure for Measure, although 
Shakespeare was not possessed by the ardent hatred of 
tyranny which inspired Shelley's play. 

To the Romans the name of Beatrice Cenci is to this 
day the great symbol of liberty. The young girl who 
defended her honour against her atrocious father (whose deed 
of violence was indirectly sanctioned by the corruption of 
the rulers of the country from the Pope downwards) is still 
regarded by the Roman as a heroine and martyr. When- 
ever, during the long oppression of the Papacy, there has 
been a little clearing of the air, a little brightening of the 
horizon, her name has been heard, her picture has circulated, 
in Rome. Shelley, forgetting all theories, is here entirely 
absorbed by history. But what evidently impressed him 
in this tragic collision of duties, was the violent break with 
all traditional morality which the father's crime necessitated ; ' 
and he was also attracted by the opportunity the situation 
offered for throwing a glaring search-light on the accepted 
theological doctrine of the paternal benevolence displayed in 
the regulation of the universe. Beatrice says : 

" Thou great God, 
Whose image upon earth a father is, 
Dost thou indeed abandon me?" 

And when she is asked : 

" Art thou not guilty of thy father's death ?" 

She answers : 

" Or wiluhou rather tax high-judging God 
That he permitted such an act as that 
Which I have suffered, and which he beheld ; 
Made it unutterable, and took from it 
All refuge, all revenge, all consequence, 
But that which thou hast called my father's death? 9 



246 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

In the torture chamber she says : 

11 My pangs are of the mind and of the heart 
And of the soul : ay, of the inmost soul, 
Which weeps within tears as of burning gall 
To see, in this ill world where none are true, 
My kindred false to their deserted selves ; 
And with considering all the wretched life 
Which I have lived, and its now wretched end ; 
And the small justice shown by Heaven and Earth 
To me or mine ; and what a tyrant thou art, 
And what slaves these ; and what a world we make, 
The oppressor and the oppressed." 

It is plain that what specially attracted Shelley in 
Beatrice's character was its combination of energy and 
gentleness. 

When the hour of death has come, a horror seizes her 
at the thought that after death she may meet her father 
again. She cries : 

"If there should be 
No God, no heaven, no earth, in the void world, 
The wide, grey, lampless, deep, unpeopled world I 
If all things then should be my father's spirit, 
His eye, his voice, his touch, surrounding me, 
The atmosphere and breath of my dead life 1 
If sometimes, as a shape more like himself, 
Even the form which tortured me on earth, 
Masked in grey hairs and wrinkles, he should come, 
And wind me in his hellish arms, and fix 
His eyes on mine, and drag me down, down, down ! 
For was he not alone omnipotent 
On earth, and ever present ? Even though dead 
Does not his spirit live in all that breathe, 
And work for me and mine still the same ruin, 
Scorn, pain, despair ? Who ever yet returned 
To teach the laws of Death's untrodden realm ? 
Unjust perhaps as those which drive us now, 
Oh whither, whither 1 " 

It was of this, the most mature and best planned of 
Shelley's works, that the Literary Gazette wrote : " The Cenci 
is the most abominable work of the time, and seems to be 
the production of some fiend." The reviewer hopes never 



RADICAL NATURALISM 247 

again to see a book "so stamped with, pollution, impious- 
ness, and infamy." 

The hostility evinced depressed Shelley, who thought 
that this time he had done his best. He was not intimidated 
by it, but his desire to produce became less strong. During 
the last two years of his life no long works came from his 
pen. In November 1820 he writes: "The reception the 
public have given me might go far to damp any man's 
enthusiasm." 

His last letters are full of remarks on the criticism 
meted out to him. 

April 1 8 19: — "As to the Reviews, I suppose there is 
nothing but abuse ; and this is not hearty enough or sincere 
enough to amuse me." 

March 1820: — "If any of the Reviews abuse me, cut 
them out and send them; if they praise, you need not 
trouble yourself. I feel ashamed if I could believe that I 
should deserve the latter : the former, I flatter myself, is no 
more than a just tribute." 

In 182 1 he writes the poem on Keats with the terrible 
outburst against the reviewer who is supposed to have been 
the cause of the young poet's death : 

" Hot shame shall burn upon thy secret brow, 
And like a beaten hound tremble thou shalt — as now." 

June 182 1 : — " I hear that the abuse against me exceeds 
all bounds. Pray, if you see any one article particularly 
outrageous, send it me. As yet, I have laughed ; but woe 
to these scoundrels if they should once make me lose my 
temper. I have discovered that my calumniator in the 
Quarterly Review was the Reverend Mr. Milman. Priests 
have their privilege." 

August 1 82 1 : — "I write nothing, and probably shall 
write no more." 

Byron, when his enemies irritated him, stopped his 
work for a moment and showed them the lion's claw. 
Shelley was of a different nature. The satire of the re- 
viewers contained in his Peter Bell the Third is sportiveness 
in comparison with Byron's sanguinary attacks on Southey 



248 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

and the others. Whenever Shelley made his appearance 
the creeping things of literature began to swarm and stir 
beneath his feet. They stung his heel ; he could not bruise 
their heads, for such creatures have, as Swinburne has ob- 
served, too little head to be perceived and bruised. Byron's 
poetry had, moreover, made for him friends and admirers 
by the thousand; he shared Parnassus with Goethe; he 
had begun to set the stamp of his spirit on the continent of 
Europe. Shelley was too far in advance of his age. The 
crowd will follow a leader who marches twenty steps in 
advance ; but if he is a thousand steps in front of them, 
they do not see and do not follow him, and any literary 
freebooter who chooses may shoot him with impunity. 

Moore was a man of great talent, and exercised influence 
as such. What Shelley had was not talent, either great or 
small, but genius. He was the very genius of poetry ; and 
he had all the power which genius gives ; where he fell 
short was in his grip of reality. He has influenced the 
succeeding generations of English poets throughout this 
whole century, but he had not the twentieth part of the 
merely talented Moore's influence upon his own contem- 
poraries. Byron was, as none had ever been before, the poet 
of personality, and as such was excessively egotistic ; prejudice 
and vanity could not in his case be entirely eradicated 
without nobler qualities suffering from the process. Shelley, 
perfectly free from vanity and egotism, was absorbed in his 
ideals ; he expanded his Ego until it embraced the universe. 
But what was ideal virtue in him as a man entailed a fatal 
defect in his poetry, at any rate in the works produced 
during the first part of his too short life. This poet, so 
devoid of all thought of self, was long entirely deficient in 
self-restraint. A sense of form as regarded a great com- 
position in its entirety was for many years denied him. In 
making his first appearance as a poet he stumbled over the 
threshold, and it takes more than genius to make the reading 
public forget such an entrance. The Revolt of Islam, with all 
the beauty of its detail, is vague and formless ; it hovers 
transcendentally in the air. With its shadowy, bloodless 
characters, it is distended to such proportions that it is a 



RADICAL NATURALISM 249 

task to read it to the end ; and it was a task which few 
accomplished. Until Shelley wrote The Cenci he seems to 
have had no idea of the infinite attractiveness and infinite 
value of the characteristics of the individual. Even Pro- 
metheus and Asia in their quality of types are destitute of 
any peculiarly distinguishing feature ; their names are merely 
headings to the most beautiful lyric verse which England 
has ever produced. The Cenci shows how capable Shelley 
was of acquiring what he was naturally deficient in ; but, 
alas ! he was carried off before he could fulfil the rich 
promise of his youth, and before his contemporaries had 
had their eyes opened to what they possessed in him. 
Although his shorter lyrics surpass in depth and freshness, 
naturalness and charm, everything else in the shape of 
lyric poetry that the century has produced, they could not 
influence his own generation, as most of them were not 
even printed during his lifetime. 

Thus Shelley was no more capable than Moore or 
Landor of bringing about the spiritual revolution of which 
Europe stood in need and expectancy. It required a poet 
who was as personal as Shelley was universal, as passionate 
as Shelley was idealistic, as savagely satirical as Shelley was 
harmonious and graceful, to perform the Herculean task of 
clearing the political and religious atmosphere of Europe, 
awaking the slumberers, and plunging the mighty into the 
abyss of ridicule. A man was required who could win the 
sympathies of his age alike by his vices and his virtues, his 
excellences and his faults. Shelley's instrument was an 
exquisite violin ; a trumpet was what was needed to pierce 
the air and give the signal for battle. 

Little remains to be told of Shelley's life — only the story 
of his last sail from Leghorn to Lerici, of the sudden gale 
in which he perished, of the long days spent by his despair- 
ing wife in searching the coast, and of the discovery of the 
almost unrecognisable corpse. The Tuscan law required 
any object thus cast ashore to be burned. Shelley's body 
was committed to the flames by Byron and Trelawny with 
Grecian and pagan observances that were in harmony with 
his character. Frankincense, wine, salt, and oil, were poured 



250 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

on the fuel. The day was beautiful and the surroundings 
were glorious — the calm sea in front, the Apennines behind. 
A curlew wheeled round the pyre, and would not be driven 
away. The flame arose golden and towering. The body 
was consumed, but, to the surprise of all, the heart re- 
mained entire. Trelawny snatched it from the glowing 
furnace, severely burning his hand. The ashes were de- 
posited near the Pyramid of Cestius in Rome, which Shelley 
had spoken of as an ideal resting-place. 

The first-mentioned of the men who consigned his body 
to the flames was his spiritual heir. This man's name is to 
be read on every page of the history of his day. We see his 
way prepared by Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Scott ; he is 
hated by Southey, misunderstood by Landor, loved by 
Moore, admired, influenced, and sung by Shelley. He 
occupies a place in every one's life. It is he who sets the 
final and decisive stamp on the poetical literature of the 
age. 



XVII 

BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 

Entering the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen, and 
turning to the right, the first work that meets one's eye is 
the marble bust of a noble-looking young man, with beauti- 
ful features and curly hair — the bust of Lord Byron. In 
room No. 12 we find the same work in plaster, and in 
No. 13 stands the statue executed (after Byron's death) 
from the bust. Let us examine the plaster bust, which is 
without doubt the most speaking likeness. Beauty and dis- 
tinction are the first qualities that strike us in this head 
and face ; but the next moment we are attracted by an 
expression of energy, which comes chiefly from a restless 
I quiver of the brow — indicating that clouds might gather on 
I it and lightning flash from the clouds — and from something 
\ imperiously compelling in the glance. This brow betokens 
irresistibility. 

When one remembers the dissimilarity of Thorvaldsen's 
and Byron's natures, remembers that in all probability 
Thorvaldsen never read a line of Byron's poetry, and also 
that the poet did not show his best side to the sculptor, the 
result of the meeting of the two great men must be regarded 
as extraordinarily satisfactory. The bust gives what is 
necessarily a feeble and incomplete, but nevertheless a true 
and beautiful representation of a main aspect of Byron's 
character which one would hardly have expected Thorvaldsen 
to grasp. The idyll is that sculptor's real province. When 
he sets himself to represent Alexander's triumphal entry into 
Babylon, he is much more successful with the shepherds, 
the sheep, the fishermen, the women, the children, the pro- 
cession in general, than with the hero himself ; the heroic is 
not to the same extent his affair ; how much less, then, the 



252 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

combatant nature in the complicated, modern form of it which 
has been dubbed the daemonic. And yet he understood 
Byron. In the bust (not in the statue) he has given the 
world a monument of him, which, although it satisfied 
neither the Countess Guiccioli nor Thomas Moore, is worthy 
both of the poet and of the artist. If Thorvaldsen had 
really known Byron, the work would probably have been 
still better ; the face would have had a touch of the frank- 
ness and attractiveness which impressed all who knew him 
well. This is absent. But the Danish sculptor has suc- 
ceeded in penetrating into what lay beneath the gloomy 
expression which he considered an assumed one, and show- 
ing us the suffering, the restlessness, the genius, the noble 
and terrible power. 

It was, undoubtedly, with the Byron of the Museum 
that the next generation to his in Denmark grew up. But 
the image presented to them there was invariably con- 
nected in their minds with the story of the poet's visit to 
Thorvaldsen's studio, and with the latter's observation : u It 
was his fancy to be unhappy ; " l and they wondered why 
such a great man should not have been perfectly natural. 
And so the first attitude of the Danes to Byron was a wrong, 
or at any rate an uncertain one. And an uncertain one it 
still remains. He is little fitted to be the hero of the present 
age. The very things which were much more effectual 
than his greatness as a poet in arousing the admiration of 
our grandfathers and grandmothers, are the things that 
repel the present generation — all those mythical traditions 
(which really obscure his history to us) of Byron the stage 
hero, with the tie which every one imitated ; Byron, the hero 
of romance, whose pistols were his constant companions, and 
whose amorous adventures were as famous as his verse ; 
Byron, the aristocrat, with the title which he valued so 
highly, but which makes little impression on a generation 
that recognises no aristocracy but that of the intellect. And 
our practical age has, moreover, a distinct contempt for 
what Byron sometimes imagined his honour required him 
to be, and sometimes really was — the dilettante, 

1 Thiele : Thorvaldsen i Rom. i. 342. 




LORD BYRON 



BYRON : THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 253 

It was a matter of honour with him to practise his art in 
a non-professional manner. His position and his pursuits 
(so he writes in the preface to his first volume of poetry) 
make it highly improbable that he will ever take up the pen 
again. In 1814, at the very summit of the celebrity won 
for him by his first narrative poems, he determines to write 
no more poetry, and to suppress all that he has written. A 
month afterwards he writes Lara. Jeffrey criticised the 
character of the hero as too elaborate. Byron asks (in a 
letter of 1822): "What do they mean by 'elaborate?* I 
wrote Lara while undressing after coming home from balls 
and masquerades, in the year of revelry 18 14." We feel 
that he lays stress on the careless manner of production 
and the painlessness consequent thereon, from a desire to 
show that he is not a professional poet, but, in the first 
instance, a man of the world, in the second, that which his 
gifts forbade his being, namely, a poetical dilettante. 

Though he was incapable of being a dilettante in the 
calling in which he was determined to play that part (a 
determination which nowadays detracts from our respect 
for him), he was indisputably one in another field of 
activity, where it was by no means his intention, namely, in 
politics. Practical though he always showed himself to be 
when it came to political action, his politics were in reality — 
whether he took part in the conspiracies of the Carbonari at 
Ravenna or led the Suliotes at Missolonghi — the politics of 
the emotionalist and the adventurer. His first proceeding 
after he had resolved to go to Greece was to order for him- 
self and his friends gilded helmets with his crest and motto 
engraved on them. The great politician of our days is the 
man who lays plans, adheres to them and develops them 
year after year, and, obstinate and regardless of side issues, 
carries them out in the end, without the heroic apparatus, 
but with the hero's determination. 

It must not be forgotten that a whole succession of 
Byron's admirers and imitators have forced themselves in 
between him and us, obscuring the figure, and confusing our 
impression, of the great departed. Their qualities have been 
imputed to him, and he has been blamed for their faults. 



254 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

When the literary reaction set in against those who had 
understood him half and wrongly — against the brokenhearted, 
the blasts, the enigmatical, writers — his great name suffered 
along with theirs ; it was swept aside along with the lesser 
ones. It had deserved better of fate. 

George Gordon Byron, born on the 22nd of January 
1788, was the son of a passionate and unhappy mother, 
who a short time before his birth left her dissipated, brutal 
husband. This man, Captain Byron, who had served for a 
time in America as an officer in the Guards, was known in 
his youth as " mad Jack Byron." He eloped to the Con- 
tinent with the wife of the Marquis of Carmarthen, married 
her when her husband obtained a divorce from her, spent 
all her money, and treated her so badly that she died of 
grief a few years after her marriage. Captain Byron re- 
turned to England with his little daughter, Augusta, and, 
solely with the view of improving his circumstances, married 
a wealthy Scottish heiress, Miss Catherine Gordon of Gight, 
who became the mother of the man who still enjoys a 
world-wide fame. Immediately after the wedding Captain 
Byron began to make away with the fortune of his second 
wife. In the course of a year he had reduced it from 
.£24,000 to ^3000. She left him in France and, coming to 
London, gave birth there to her only child. By an accident, 
said to have occurred at the time of his birth, one of the 
child's feet was malformed. 

Two years later the mother went with her boy to Scot- 
land, and took up her residence at Aberdeen. Captain 
Byron, during a pause in his dissipations, followed them 
there, in the hope of extracting more money from his wife. 
She generously gave him the shelter of her roof for a time, 
and afterwards they still continued to visit each other, until 
Captain Byron, to evade his creditors, was obliged to return 
to France, where he died in 1791. When the news of his 
death reached his wife, who had never ceased to love him, 
her grief bordered on distraction, and her shrieks were so 
loud as to be heard in the street. 

Uncontrollable passionateness, differing only in its 
manifestations and its force, was thus a characteristic 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 255 

of both Byron's parents. And farther back in the families 
of both, we find the same temperament, revealing itself 
in the mother's family in attempts at suicide and poison- 
ing, and in the father's, now in heroic daring, now in 
reckless excess. Byron's paternal grandfather, Admiral 
John Byron, generally known as " hardy Byron," took 
part in the naval warfare against Spain and France, made 
voyages of discovery in the South Sea, circumnavigated 
the globe, and went through perils and adventures with- 
out number; the peculiarity that he could never take a 
voyage without encountering terrible storms gained him the 
nickname among the sailors of " foul-weather Jack." Byron 
compares his own fate with his grandfather's. The family 
temperament shows itself in its worst form in the poet's 
grand-uncle, William, Lord Byron, a dissolute brawler, who 
achieved notoriety by killing his neighbour, Mr. Chaworth 
(after a quarrel), in a duel fought without seconds. It was 
only in his quality of peer of England that he escaped 
sentence for murder ; ever after his trial he lived on his 
estate of Newstead, shunned like a leper. He was hated by 
all around him ; his wife procured a separation from him ; 
among the superstitious country people extravagantly horrible 
stories of his doings circulated and were believed. 

Thus the poet had wild blood in his veins. But it was 
also very aristocratic blood. On the mother's side he 
claimed descent from the Stuarts, from King James the First 
of Scotland ; on his father's he was the descendant (though 
with a bar-sinister in the arms, a circumstance Byron him- 
self never alludes to) of the Norman noble Ralph de Burun, 
who accompanied William the Conqueror into England. 
And when the grand-uncle just named lost, first his only son, 
and then, in 1794, his only grandson, it became probable 
that "the little lame boy who lives at Aberdeen," as his 
uncle called him, would inherit both Newstead and the 
family title. 

It was with this prospect before him that the lame 
boy grew up. He was proud and uncontrollable by nature. 
When he was still in petticoats, his nurse reprimanding him 
angrily one day for having soiled a new frock, he got into 



256 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

one of his " silent rages " (as he himself called them), turned 
as pale as a sheet, seized his frock with both hands, and 
tore it from top to bottom. His mother's treatment of him 
was little calculated to correct these tendencies. She alter- 
nately overwhelmed him with reproaches and with passionate 
caresses ; when she was in a rage she vented on him the 
anger which his father's treatment of her aroused ; she some- 
times even reproached him with his lameness. The fault 
lies partly with her that this physical infirmity cast such a 
dark shadow over little George's mind ; he heard his own 
mother call him "a lame brat." Bandaging and various 
kinds of surgical treatment only increased the evil ; the foot 
gave him much pain, and the proud little boy exercised all 
the strength of his will in concealing his suffering, and, as 
much as possible, his limp. Sometimes he was unable to 
bear any allusion to his deformity ; at other times he would 
speak with a mocking bitterness of his " club-foot." 

Though Byron was not diligent at school, he developed a 
passion, the moment he could read, for history and books 
of travel ; the seeds of his longing for the East were sown 
in his earliest youth. He himself tells that before he was 
ten he had read six long works on Turkey, besides other 
books of travel and adventure, and Arabian tales. As a 
little boy his favourite story was Zeluco, by John Moore, 
the hero of which is a youth whose mother's bad education 
of him after his father's death has led to his giving way to 
all his own caprices ; he becomes " as inflammable as gun- 
powder." In this hero of romance, who reminds us of 
William Lovell, the boy saw himself reflected. One of the 
qualities which were to play a decisive part in the poet's life 
revealed itself very early, namely, his passionate attraction 
towards the other sex. At the age of five he was so deeply 
in love with a little girl, Mary Duff, that when, eleven years 
afterwards, he heard of her marriage, his feelings nearly 
threw him into convulsions. 

With pride, passionateness, melancholy, and a fantastic 
longing for travel, there was combined, as the determining 
quality of his character, an ardent love of truth. Naive 
sincerity distinguished the child who was destined as a man 



BYRON : THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 257 

to be the great antagonist of the hypocrisies of European 
society. His defiant spirit was only one of the forms of 
his truthfulness. His nurse took him one night to the 
theatre to see The Taming of the Shrew. In the scene between 
Catherine and Petruchio, where Petruchio insists that what 
Catherine knows to be the moon is the sun, little Geordie 
(as they called the child) started from his seat and cried 
out boldly : " But I say it is the moon, sir." 

When George was ten, his grand-uncle, Lord Byron, 
died. One of the child's first actions after being told what 
had happened, was to run to his mother and ask if she 
noticed any difference in him since he had become a lord. 
On the morning when his name was first called out in 
school with the title of " Dominus " prefixed to it, he 
was so much agitated that he was unable to give utter- 
ance to the usual answer, " Adsum " ; after standing silent 
for a moment he burst into tears. Byron's intensest 
pleasures were at first, and for long, those of gratified 
vanity. But to understand his agitation properly in this 
case, one must remember what the title of " lord " implied, 
and still implies, in England. The nobility proper of that 
country consists of not more than about four hundred 
titled persons — about the number of princes in Germany. 
On their own estates these noblemen exercise an almost 
unlimited political and social influence ; their position is 
not much inferior to that of reigning princes, and, as a 
rule, their wealth corresponds to their rank. Such, how- 
ever, was not the case in this instance ; Byron had no 
private fortune, and the property of Newstead Abbey was in 
a neglected condition, and heavily mortgaged. 

In the autumn of 1798 Mrs. Byron took her little son 
to Newstead. When they came to Newstead toll-bar, affect- 
ing to be ignorant of the neighbourhood, she asked the 
woman of the toll-house, to whom the park and mansion 
they saw before them belonged. She was told that the 
owner of it had been some months dead. " And who is 
the next heir ? " asked the proud and happy mother. " They 
say," answered the woman, " it is a little boy who lives in 
Aberdeen." " And this is he, bless him ! " exclaimed the 

VOL. IV. R 



258 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

nurse, no longer able to contain herself, and turning to kiss 
with delight the young lord, who was seated on her lap. 

In 1 80 1 the boy was sent to Harrow, one of the 
great English public schools which is much in favour 
with the aristocracy. The system of instruction (strictly 
classical) was uninteresting and pedantic, and did not 
produce much effect on Byron, whose relations with 
his masters were as strained as his friendships with his 
comrades were enthusiastic. " My school friendships," 
he writes in his diary in 1821, "were with me passions 
(for I was always violent)." As a friend he was generous, 
and loved to play the part of protector. When Peel, the 
future Prime Minister, was one day being unmercifully 
thrashed by the elder boy whose fag he was, Byron inter- 
rupted, and, knowing he was not strong enough to fight 
the tyrant, humbly begged to be allowed to take half the 
stripes the latter meant to inflict. When little Lord Gart, 
after having had his hand burned with a piece of red- 
hot iron by one of the monitors, as a punishment for making 
bad toast, refused, when the matter was investigated into, 
to tell the name of the culprit, Byron offered to take him 
as his fag, promising that he should not be ill-used. " I 
became his fag," said Lord Gart (see Countess Guiccioli's 
Reminiscences), "and was perfectly delighted when I found 
what a good, kind master I had, one who was always giving 
me cakes and sweets, and was most lenient with my faults." 
To his favourite fag, the Duke of Dorset, Byron, in his 
Hours 0/ Idleness, addressed some charming lines in memory 
of their school days. 

When the boy was at home in the holidays, his mother's 
behaviour towards him was as erratic, her temper as uncon- 
trollable, as ever ; but now, instead of being afraid of her, 
he could not resist laughing at the fat little woman's out- 
breaks. Not content with smashing cups and plates, she 
sometimes employed poker and tongs as missiles. 1 

1 The relation between mother and son has been so accurately and vividly 
described by Disraeli in his novel Venetia, that I append a scene from the book 
in question, — merely condensing it, and substituting the real names for the ficti- 
tious (Cadurcis, Plantagenet, Morpeth, &c). The scene takes place one morning 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 259 

Let us imagine, after such a scene as that described 
in the footnote, a smiling, golden-haired girl entering the 
room and softening the defiant boy's mood with a look, 
and we have a situation such as cannot have been at all 
uncommon at Annesley, the residence of the Chaworth 
family (relations of the man whom Byron's grand-uncle 

at Annesley, a country house in the neighbourhood of Newstead. A post-chaise 
drives up to the hall, and from it issues a short, stout woman with a rubicund 
countenance, dressed in a style which remarkably blends the shabby with the 
tawdry. She is accompanied by a boy between eleven and twelve years of age, 
whose appearance is in strong contrast with his mother's, for he is pale and slender, 
with long curling black hair and black eyes, which occasionally, by their transient 
flashes, agreeably relieve a face, the general expression of which might be esteemed 
somewhat shy and sullen. It is a first visit. The visitors enter tired and hot 

" ' A terrible journey,' exclaimed Mrs. Byron, fanning herself as she took her 
seat, ( and so very hot ! George, my love, make your bow ! Have not I always 
told you to make a bow when you enter the room, especially where there are 
strangers? Make your bow to Mrs. Chaworth.' 

The boy gave a sort of sulky nod, but Mrs. Chaworth received it so graciously 
and expressed herself so kindly to him that his features relaxed a little, though he 
was quite silent and sat on the edge of his chair, the picture of dogged indifference. 

'Charming country, Mrs. Chaworth,' said Mrs. Byron. . . 'Annesley is a 
delightful place, very unlike the Abbey. Dreadfully lonesome, I assure you, I find 
it there. Great change for us from a little town and all our kind neighbours. Very 
different from Dulwich ; is it not, George?' 

' I hate Dulwich,' said the boy. 

( Hate Dulwich ! ' exclaimed Mrs. Byron ; ' well, I am sure, that is very 
ungrateful, with so many kind friends as we always found. Besides, George, have I 
not always told you that you are to hate nothing? It is very wicked. — The trouble, 
it costs me, Mrs. Chaworth, to educate this dear child ! ' continued Mrs. Byron 
turning to her hostess. ' But when he likes, he can be as good as any one. Can't 
you, George?' 

Lord Byron gave a grim smile, seated himself at the very back of the deep 
chair and swung his feet, which no longer reached the ground, to and fro. 

' I am sure that Lord Byron always behaves well,' said Mrs. Chaworth. 

'There, George/ continued Mrs. Byron, 'only listen to that. Hear what 
Mrs. Chaworth says. Now mind, never give her cause to change her opinion. 

George curled his lip, and half turned his back on his companions. . . . 

' George, my dear, speak. Have not I always told you, when you pay a visit, 
that you should open your mouth now and then. I don't like chattering children, 
but I like them to answer when they are spoken to.' 

* Nobody has spoken to me,' said Lord Byron in a sullen tone. 

' George, my love,' said his mother in a solemn voice, ( you know you promised 
me to be good.' 

'Well! what have I done?' 

'Lord Byron,' said Mrs. Chatworth, interfering, 'do you like to look at 
pictures ? ' 



260 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

killed in the notorious duel), when Mrs. Byron and her son 
were visiting there. The golden-haired girl, Mary Anne 
Chaworth, was seventeen when Byron was fifteen. He 
loved her passionately and jealously. At balls, where she 
was in great request as a partner, and his lameness pre- 
vented his dancing, it occasioned him agonies to see her 

' Thank you/ replied the little lord in a more courteous tone ; ' I like to be 
left alone.' 

* Did you ever know such an odd child ! ' said Mrs. Byron ; 'and yet, I assure 
you, Mrs. Chaworth, he can behave, when he likes, as pretty as possible.' 

1 Pretty ! ' muttered the little lord between his teeth. 

'If you had only seen him at Dulwich sometimes at a little tea-party/ said 
Mrs. Byron, ' he really was quite the ornament of the company.' 

' No, I wasn't,' said Lord Byron. 

' George ! ' said his mother again in a solemn tone, ' have I not always told 
you that you are never to contradict any one ? ' 

The little lord indulged in a suppressed growl. 

' There was a little play last Christmas,' continued Mrs. Byron, ' and he acted 
quite delightfully. Now you would not think that, from the way he sits upon that 
chair. George, my dear, I do insist upon your behaving yourself. Sit like a 



' I am not a man/ said Lord Byron, very quietly ; ' I wish I were.' 

( George ! ' said the mother, ' have I not always told you that you are never to 
answer me ? It is not proper for children to answer. ... Do you hear me ? ' she 
cried, with a face reddening to scarlet, and almost menacing a move from her seat. 

' Yes, everybody hears you, Mrs. Byron/ said the little lord. 

' Don't call me Mrs. Byron ; that is not the way to speak to your mother ; I 
will not be called Mrs. Byron by you. ... I have half a mind to get up and give 
you a good shake, that I have. O Mrs. Chaworth/ sighed Mrs. Byron, while a 
tear trickled down her cheek, ( if you only knew the life I lead, and what trouble it 
costs me to educate that child ! ' 

* My dear madam/ said Mrs. Chaworth, ' I am sure that Lord Byron has no 
other wish but to please you. Indeed you have misunderstood him.' 

( Yes! she always misunderstands me/ said Lord Byron in a softer tone, but 
with pouting lips and suffused eyes. 

' Now he is going on/ said his mother, beginning herself to cry dreadfully . . . 
and, irritated by the remembrance of all his naughtiness, she rushed forward to give 
him what she had threatened, and what she in general ultimately had recourse to, a 
good shake. 

Her agile son, experienced in these storms, escaped in time, and pushed his 
chair before his infuriated mother ; Mrs. Byron, however, rallied, and chased him 
round the room ; in her despair she took up a book and threw it at his head ; he 
laughed a fiendish laugh, as, ducking his head, the book flew on and dashed through 
a pane of glass. Mrs. Byron made a desperate charge, and her son, a little frightened 
at her almost maniacal passion, saved himself by suddenly seizing Mrs. Chaworth's 
work-table and whisking it before her. She fell over the leg of the table, and went 
into hysterics, while Lord Byron, pale and dogged, stood in a corner." 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 261 

in the arms of other men. The climax was put to his 
sufferings when he overheard her one evening saying to her 
maid : " Do you think I could care anything for that lame 
boy ? " He darted out of the house, late though it was, 
and, scarcely knowing where he was running, never stopped 
till he came to Newstead. Thirteen years later, in the 
Villa Deodati, by the Lake of Geneva, he wrote, with the 
tears streaming from his eyes, a poem, The Dream, which 
treats of this attachment, and shows the deep impression 
made by the early disappointment. 1 

The cleverer Byron became in preserving a sarcastically 
calm attitude during his mother's fits of rage, the more 
unnatural became the relations between mother and son. 
The scenes were sometimes terrible. It is told as a curious 
example of their idea of each other's violence, that, after 
parting one evening, each went privately later in the night to 
the apothecary's to inquire whether the other had been to 
purchase poison, and to caution the man not to attend to 
such an application, if made. In his letters young Byron 
writes with melancholy humour of the manner in which 
he is every now and then driven to take flight, to escape 
from scenes at home. He gives not the slightest hint to 
any one of the intended excursions, for fear, he says, of 
rousing " the accustomed maternal war whoop." 

In 1805 Byron went to Cambridge, where he spent his 
time less in study than in the practice of all the varieties of 
athletic exercise to which from his childhood he had eagerly 
devoted himself, in the hope of atoning by his proficiency 
in them for his bodily infirmity. Riding, swimming, driving, 
shooting, boxing, cricket-playing, and drinking, were accom- 

1 Very characteristic of Mrs. Byron is the manner in which she communicated to 
her son (two years after he had been obliged to give up all hope) the news of Mary 
Chaworth's marriage. A visitor who was present tells the story : — " ' Byron,' she 
said, ' I have some news for you.' ' Well, what is it ? ' ' Take out your handker- 
chief first, for you will want it.' He did so, to humour her. ' Miss Chaworth is 
married.' An expression very peculiar, impossible to describe, passed over his pale 
face, and he hurried his handkerchief into his pocket, saying, with an affected air of 
coldness and nonchalance, 'Is that all?' 'Why, I expected you would have been 
plunged in grief!' He made no reply, and soon began to talk about something 
else." The less he could confide in his mother, the more impelled he felt to express 
his feelings and sorrows on paper. 



262 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

plishments in which he was determined to excel. He began 
to develop the signs of a dandy ; and it satisfied his youthful 
love of bravado to take excursions in company with a 
pretty young girl, who went about with him in male attire, 
and played the part of his valet, or sometimes of his younger 
brother — in which character he was impertinent enough to 
introduce her to a lady at Brighton who was unacquainted 
with his family. 

Newstead Abbey had been let for a term of years. As 
soon as it was vacant, Byron went to live there. It is a real 
old Gothic abbey, with refectory and cells, the earliest parts 
of it dating from 1170. The house and gardens are sur- 
rounded by a battlemented wall. In the courtyard is a 
Gothic well. In front is a park, with a large lake. At 
Newstead, Byron and his friends, in their youthful, defiant 
antipathy to all rules, led a life of dissipation which 
showed traces of the mania for originality to which, as history 
shows, men of genius have not unfrequently been subject 
before becoming conscious of their proper tasks and aims. 
These young men got up at 2 p.m. and fenced, played 
shuttlecock, or practised with pistols in the hall ; after 
dinner, to the scandal of the pious inhabitants of the neigh- 
bourhood, a human skull filled with Burgundy went round. 
It was the skull of some old monk, which the gardener had 
unearthed when digging ; Byron, in a capricious mood, had 
had it mounted in silver as a drinking-cup, and he and his 
companions took a childish pleasure in using it as such, 
themselves dressed up as monks, with all the proper appa- 
ratus of crosses, beads, tonsures, &C 1 It is a mistake, 
however, to regard the action simply as an evidence of that 
want of feeling which so often — among medical students, 
for instance — accompanies joviality ; to a man like Byron 
the sight of this memento mart in the midst of his carousals 
probably acted as a kind of bitter stimulant. In the lines 
which he addressed to it he writes that, to the dead man, 
the touch of human lips must be preferable to the bite 
of the worm. 

Byron's excesses did not proceed from too high spirits. 

1 The present owner of Newstead has, from religious reasons, had it buried. 



BYRON : THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 263 

He was oppressed, not only by the melancholy which 
attacks most youths of remarkable ability when they find 
themselves, with their untried powers, face to face with 
nothing but questions, but, in addition to this, by the 
melancholy which was a result of his passionate character 
and his upbringing. Two stories, which to most of his 
biographers seem very pathetic, are told of him at this period 
of his life. The first is in connection with his dog, Boatswain. 
In 1808, he composed an excessively misanthropic inscrip- 
tion for this favourite's grave, in which he lauds him at the 
expense of the whole human race ; and at the same time 
he made a will (afterwards cancelled), in which he desired 
that he should be buried beside his dog, his only friend. 
The other proof of his forlorn mood is the manner in which 
he spent his twenty-first birthday, the day of his coming of 
age, an occasion which is celebrated among the English 
nobility with all manner of festivities — illuminations, fire- 
works, a ball, and the entertainment of all the tenants. 
Byron was so poor that he was obliged to have recourse 
to the money-lenders for the wherewithal to give his tenants 
a ball and roast the customary ox for them. But no long 
train of carriages bringing visitors of high degree drew up 
at the doors of Newstead Abbey on the 22nd of January 
1809 ; neither mother, sister, guardians, nor relations, near 
or distant, were there. Byron himself spent the day at a 
hotel in London. In a letter of the year 1822 he writes: 
€t Did I ever tell you that the day I came of age I dined on 
eggs and bacon and a bottle of ale ? For once in a way 
they are my favourite dish and drinkable ; but as neither of 
them agree with me, I never use them but on great jubilees 
—once in four or five years or so." 

It is, naturally, pleasanter to be rich than to be poor, 
and more flattering to one's self-esteem to receive the 
congratulations of relatives and friends than to feel one's 
self homeless and solitary; but in comparison with the 
difficulties and privations and humiliations which every 
young modern plebeian has to encounter at the outset of 
his career, the adversities of this young patrician dwindle 
into nothing. What gave them their importance was that 



264 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

they early drove Byron, who, as a young aristocrat, might 
otherwise have been absorbed by the pursuits and ideas 
of his class and kin, exclusively to those resources which 
he possessed as the single, isolated individual. 

It was not one of the great political events of the 
day, no transport of joy or anger occasioned by the great 
political revolutions in which the period was so fertile, that 
tore Byron away from the disorderly, aimless life at New- 
stead. Such events as the death of Fox, or that proceeding 
which redounded so little to the honour of England — the 
bombardment of Copenhagen, made no impression whatever 
on the youth who, as a man, was to be so strongly affected by 
every historical occurrence, every political deed or misdeed. 
It was a private literary contrariety which made the first 
turning-point in his life. Whilst living (from the summer of 
1806 till the summer of 1807) in the little town of Southwell, 
Byron had produced his first attempts at poetry, which had 
met with much appreciation from the younger members of 
a family named Pigot, who were his intimates at the time. 
In March 1807 a collection of these poems was published 
under the title, Hours of Idleness. The volume contained 
nothing very remarkable ; the poems which really testify to 
strength of feeling are swamped by quantities of school-boy 
verses, some of them translations and imitations of the school 
classics and Ossian, the rest, sentimental poems of love and 
friendship, immature in conception and style. In one or 
two, we readers of the present day, wise after the event, 
can plainly detect Byron's future personality and style. In 
the poem To a Lady, which is addressed to Mary Chaworth, 
occur two genuinely Byronic verses : — 

" If thou wert mine, had all been hush'd : — 
This cheek now pale from early riot, 
With passion's hectic ne'er had flush'd, 
But bloomed in calm domestic quiet 

But now I seek for other joys : 
To think would drive my soul to madness ; 

In thoughtless throngs and empty noise, 
I conquer half my bosom's sadness." 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 265 

The poems were really of little value, and the ample 
provision of childish, foolish notes, the pretentious preface, 
and the appendage of the words " A Minor " to the author's 
name on the title-page, lent themselves to ridicule. 

In January 1 808, the Edinburgh Review, at that time the 
highest literary court of appeal, contained an extremely 
sarcastic review of the volume, probably written by Lord 
Brougham. "The noble author," writes the reviewer, "is 
peculiarly forward in pleading minority ; we have it in the 
title-page, and on the very back of the volume. ... If any 
suit could be brought against Lord Byron, for the purpose 
of compelling him to put into court a certain quantity of 
poetry, and if judgment were given against him, it is highly 
probable that an exception would be taken, were he to 
deliver for poetry the contents of this volume. To this he 
might plead minority; but, &c. &c. . • • Perhaps however, 
in reality all that he tells us about his youth is rather with a 
view to increase our wonder than to soften our censures. 
He possibly means to say, ' See how a minor can write ! 
This poem was actually composed by a young man of 
eighteen, and this by one of onlyjsixteen !' ... So far from 
hearing, with any degree of surprise, that very poor verses 
were written by a youth from his leaving school to his 
leaving college, inclusive, we really believe that it happens 
in the life of nine men in ten who are educated in England, 
and that the tenth man writes better verse than Lord 
Byron. . . . We must beg leave seriously to assure him 
that the mere rhyming of the final syllable, even when 
accompanied by the presence of a certain number of feet 
— nay, although (which does not always happen) those feet 
should scan regularly, and have been all counted accurately 
upon the fingers — is not the whole art of poetry. A certain 
portion of liveliness, somewhat of fancy, is necessary to 
constitute a poem . . . &c. &c." 

The reviewer's advice to Byron is to give up poetry and 
employ his gifts and his leisure hours better. As an exhor- 
tation addressed to the epoch-making English poet of the 
age by one whose profession it was to assay and value the 
works of literary aspirants, the article, in spite of its partial 



266 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

justification, was undeniably a gross blunder. But as far as 
Byron himself was concerned, nothing better could have 
happened to him. It affected him like a challenge ; it was 
a terrible blow to his vanity, and roused that which was to 
survive him — his pride. A friend who saw him in the first 
moments of excitement after reading the article, has de- 
scribed the fierce defiance of his looks, and added that it 
would be difficult for sculptor or painter to imagine a 
subject of more fearful beauty than the young poet in his 
wrath. 

Byron concealed his feelings from every one. In a letter 
written about this time he expresses regret that his mother 
has tak^en the affair so much to heart, and assures his corre- 
spondent that his own repose and appetite have not been 
discomposed — that these " paper bullets of the brain " have 
only taught him to stand fire. But a dozen years afterwards 
he writes : " I well recollect the effect which the critique of 
the Edinburgh Reviewers on my first poem had upon me — 
it was rage and resistance, and redress ; but not despondency 
nor despair. A savage review is hemlock to a sucking 
author, and the one on me knocked me down — but I got 
up again . . . bent on falsifying their raven predictions, and 
determined to show them, croak as they would, that it was 
not the last time they should hear from me." Thus came 
the stimulus from the outside world which for the first 
time drove all the young man's passionate, scattered emo- 
tions into one channel, and made of them one feeling, one 
aim. With obstinate determination he set to work ; he slept 
during the day, rising after sunset in order to be less dis- 
turbed, and for several months worked every night and all 
night long at his first famous satire. 



XVIII 
BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY— (Continued) 

Famous it is, and famous it deserved to become, though 
not because of its wit and humour, for it has neither the one 
nor the other — nor yet because of its effectiveness, for it is 
satire which for the most part hacks and hews blindly, here, 
there, and everywhere — but because of the power, the self- 
consciousness, the unexampled audacity, which underlie and 
which found expression in the whole. The attacks of the 
reviewers had produced in Byron for the first time the feeling 
which was soon to become constant and dominant in his 
breast, the feeling which first made him completely con- 
scious of himself, and which may be expressed in the words : 
"Alone against you all! " To him, as to the other great com- 
bative characters of history, this feeling was the elixir of life. 
"Jeer at me with impunity! Crush tne, who am stronger 
than all of them together ! " was the refrain that rang in his 
ears whilst he wrote. The Edinburgh Reviewers were 
accustomed, when they crushed a trumpery little poet and 
flung him on the ground like a fly, or by mischance shot a 
poor little song-bird, to no resistance on the part of the 
victim. He either rebelled against the verdict in silence, or 
humbly laid the blame on his own want of ability. In either 
case what followed was profound silence. But now they 
had lighted upon the man whose prodigious strength and 
weakness lay exactly in the peculiarity that he never blamed 
himself for a misfortune, but furiously turned upon others as 
its authors. In this case, too, a silence of a year and a half 
followed upon the review. But then happened what we read 
of in Victor Hugo's poem (Les Chdtiments. " La Caravane ") : 

" Tout a coup, au milieu de ce silence morne 
Qui monte et qui s'accroit de moment en moment, 
S'£l&ve un formidable et long rugissement ! 
C'est le lion." 

■*7 



268 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

And the image is the correct one. For this satire, with 
its deficiency in beauty, grace, and wit, is more a roar 
than a song. The poet who has the throat of the nightin- 
gale, rejoices when he for the first time hears that his own 
voice is melodious ; the ugly duckling becomes happily 
conscious of its swan-nature when it is cast into its own 
element ; but the roar which tells him that now he is grown 
up, that now he is a lion, startles the young lion himself. It 
is in vain, therefore, to look in English Bards and Scotch 
Reviewers for sword-thrusts, given with a steady hand and 
sure aim ; these wounds are not the work of a hand ; they 
are torn with a claw — but the claw is the claw of a lion. It 
is in vain to search for criticism, moderation, reason ; does 
the wounded beast of prey display discernment and tact when 
a bullet, intended to kill it, has only slightly wounded it ? 
No ; its own blood, which it sees flowing, dims its eyes, and 
it desires nothing but to shed blood in revenge. It does 
not even seek the firer of the shot alone ; if one of the troop 
has wounded the young lion, then woe to the troop ! All 
the literary celebrities of England, even the greatest and 
most popular — all who were in favour with the Edinburgh 
Review and all who wrote in it — are in this satire treated 
like schoolboys by a youth of twenty, scarcely more than a 
schoolboy himself. They run the gauntlet one after the 
other, English poets and Scotch reviewers. There is many 
a hard hit that does not miss its mark. The empty fan- 
tasticalness of Southey's Thalaba, and its author's abnormal 
productivity ; the proofs afforded by Wordsworth's own 
poems of the truth of his doctrine that verse is the same 
as prose ; Coleridge's childish naivet6 ; Moore's licentious- 
ness — all these receive their due share of attention. An 
attack is made on Scott's Marmion which reminds us of 
the jeers of Aristophanes at the heroes of Euripides. But 
by far the greater proportion of the attacks made, are so rash 
and graceless that they became the occasion of much more 
annoyance to their author than to the persons attacked. 
Byron's guardian, Lord Carlisle, to whom he had but lately 
dedicated Hours of Idleness, but who had declined to intro- 
duce him to the House of Lords ; and men like Scott, Moore, 



BYRON : THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 269 

and Lord Holland, who at a later period were among 
the poet's best friends, were here abused on perfectly 
incorrect premises, and with a want of judgment which is 
paralleled only by the astonishing alacrity with which Byron, 
as soon as he was convinced that he had been in the wrong, 
apologised and strove to efface the impression of his errors. 
Some years later he tried in vain to put an end to the 
existence of the satire by destroying the whole fifth edition. 

In the meantime it created a great sensation, and pro- 
duced the desired effect, the rehabilitation of its author. 

In the beginning of 1809 Byron had gone to live in 
London, partly to superintend the publication of his satire, 
partly for the purpose of taking his seat in the House of 
Lords. As he had no friend among the peers to introduce 
him, he was obliged, contrary to custom, to present himself 
alone. His friend, Mr. Dallas, has described the scene. 
When Byron entered the House he was even paler than 
usual, and his countenance betrayed mortification and in- 
dignation. The Chancellor, Lord Eldon, put out his hand 
warmly to welcome him, and paid him some compliment. 
But this was thrown away upon Lord Byron, who made a 
stiff bow, and put the tips of his fingers into the Chancellor's 
hands. The Chancellor did not press a welcome so received, 
but resumed his seat. Byron carelessly seated himself on 
one of the empty Opposition benches, remained there for a 
few minutes to indicate to which party he belonged, and then 
left. " I have taken my seat," he said to Dallas, " and now 
I will go abroad." 

He left England in June 1809. He had, as he wrote to 
his mother in 1808, long felt, that "if we see no nation but 
our own, we do not give mankind a fair chance — it is from 
experience, not books, we ought to judge of them. There is 
nothing like inspection, and trusting to our own senses." 
He now went first to Lisbon (see the poem Huzza! Hodgson!) 
The description of Cintra in the First Canto of Childe Harold 
is a recollection of the impressions received during his short 
stay in Portugal. From Lisbon he and his friend Hobhouse 
travelled on horseback to Seville and Cadiz, and thence to 
Gibraltar by sea. 



270 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

None of the magnificent historical monuments of Seville 
made any impression on Byron, but both there and at Cadiz 
he was deeply interested in the women. The advances 
made by various beautiful Spanish ladies flattered the young 
man, who took with him as a remembrance from Seville a 
lock of hair about three feet in length. Gibraltar, being an 
English town, is, of course, a " cursed place." 

But, though little impressed by the historical memories 
of the countries he is visiting, he is already beginning to 
interest himself in their political relations. Those of Spain 
with England occupy him first. The first two cantos of 
Childe Harold show that he felt nothing but contempt for the 
foreign policy of England. He jeers at what the English 
called their victory of Talavera, where they lost 5000 men 
without doing the French much harm ; and he is audacious 
enough to call Napoleon his hero. 

From Spain Byron went to Malta. Its memories of the 
days of yore, which so delighted old Sir Walter Scott, made 
no more impression on the young nobleman than those of 
Seville had done. He was as entirely devoid of the romantic 
historical sense as of romantic national feeling. What he 
thought of, and longed for, were not the green pastures 
of England, or the misty hills of Scotland, but the Lake of 
Geneva in all its glory of colour, and the bright ^Egean 
Sea. His mind did not dwell on the historical exploits 
of his countrymen, on wars like the War of the Roses ; it 
was occupied with the politics of the day ; and in the past 
nothing interested him but the great struggles for liberty. 
To him the old statues were only stone ; the living women 
were more beautiful in his eyes than the ancient goddesses 
(" than all the nonsense of their stone ideal," as he puts it in 
Don Juan) ; but on the field of Marathon he fell into a deep 
reverie, and he celebrates its memories in both his long 
narrative poems. When, during the last year of his life, he 
visited Ithaca, he rejected all offers to show him the remains 
of antiquity on the island, remarking to Trelawny : " I detest 
antiquarian twaddle. Do people think I have no lucid 
intervals, that I came to Greece to scribble more nonsense ? " 
The poetic enthusiasm for liberty was in the end swallowed 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 271 

up by the practical. With Byron Romantic sentimentality 
comes to an end ; with him the modern spirit in poetry 
originates ; therefore it was that he influenced not only his 
own country but Europe. 

At Malta he was greatly captivated by a beautiful young 
lady, a Mrs. Spencer Smith, who for political reasons was 
subjected to persecution by Napoleon. An enthusiastic 
friendship sprang up between the two, which is com- 
memorated in several of Byron's poems. (Childe Harold, ii. 
30. To Florence. Lines Written in an Album. Stanzas composed 
during a Thunderstorm. Stanzas Written in Passing the Am- 
bracian Gulf.) From Malta the travellers went by way of 
Western Greece to Albania, the "rugged nurse of savage 
men," as Byron in Childe Harold calls the country, 

u (Where) roams the wolf, the eagle whets his beak, 
Birds, beasts of prey, and wilder men appear." 

It is characteristic of him, that in his first travels he visited 
regions which lay practically without the pale of civilisation, 
countries where the personality of the inhabitant was almost 
entirely untrammelled by convention. Natural affinity at- 
tracted him to these scenes and these beings. Like the 
young man in Wordsworth's Ruth, 

u Whatever in those climes he found 
Irregular in sight or sound 
Did to his mind impart 
A kindred impulse, seem'd allied 
To his own powers, and justified 
The workings of his heart" 

A direct descendant of Rousseau, he had a strong sympathy 
for all the races still living in "the state of nature.'' 1 The 

1 Byron has described Rousseau in a stanza which might have been written 
about himself: — 

14 Here the self-torturing sophist, wild Rousseau, 
The apostle of affliction, he who threw 
Enchantment over passion, and from woe 
Wrung overwhelming eloquence, first drew 
The breath which made him wretched ; yet he knew 
How to make madness beautiful, and cast 
O'er erring deeds and thoughts a heavenly hue 
Of words, like sunbeams, dazzling as they pass'd 
The eyes which o'er them shed tears feelingly and fast." 

Childe Harold, iii. 77 



272 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Albanians were at that time almost as savage as their Pelas- 
gian ancestors. Their law was the law of the sword, the 
vendetta their idea of justice. The people of the country, as 
Byron first beheld them assembled, the setting sun illumin- 
ating their magnificent dresses and the rich trappings of 
their horses, whilst drums beat and the muezzins called 
the hour from the minaret of the mosque, presented such a 
spectacle as we read of in the Thousand and One Nights. 

Janina proved to be a more important town than Athens. 
It was on their journey to or from Janina that the travellers 
were deserted by their guide. In their perilous condition 
among these wild mountains, with the prospect before them 
of dying of hunger, Byron was the member of the party who 
kept up the spirits of all the others by that dauntlessness 
which distinguished him in all dangerous situations. 

The day after their arrival in the capital, Byron was in- 
troduced to Ali Pacha, " the Turkish Bonaparte," whom he 
had always admired in spite of his savage cruelty. Ali 
received his visitor standing, was extremely friendly, desired 
his respects to Byron's mother, and flattered Byron himself 
very agreeably by telling him that he knew him at once to be 
a man of noble birth by his small ears, curling hair, and little 
white hands. The visit to Ali provided matter for some of 
the principal scenes in the Fourth Canto of Dan Juan. Lam- 
bro and several other Byronic figures are drawn from him. 
(He is also described by Victor Hugo in Les Orientates.) Ali 
treated Byron like a spoiled child, sending him almonds 
and sugared sherbet, fruit and sweetmeats, twenty times a 
day. 

Protected by a guard of fifty men given him by Ali 
from the numerous troops of brigands which infested the 
country, Byron now travelled all through Albania. His wild 
followers became so attached to him that, when he had an 
attack of fever, they threatened to kill the doctor if the patient 
were not cured. The doctor ran away — and the patient 
recovered. It was in the course of this tour, before retiring 
to rest for the night in a cave by the shore of the Gulf of 
Arta, that Byron saw the scene (the Pyrrhic war-dance to 
the accompaniment of song) which he afterwards described 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 273 

in Childe Harold, ii. 71, 72, and which inspired the beautiful 
song, " Tambourgi, Tambourgi ! " 

During his stay in Athens, the indignation he felt at the 
plundering of the Parthenon by England, in the person of 
Lord Elgin, inspired him with the poem, The Curse of 
Minerva; and a transient attachment to one of the daughters 
of the English consul produced the song, Maid of Athens, the 
heroine of which, even after she had become a little pale 
old lady, continued to be tormented with visits from English 
tourists. On the 3rd of May, Byron performed his famous 
feat of swimming across the Dardanelles, from Sestos to 
Abydos, in an hour and ten minutes ; he writes of it in 
Don Juan, and was proud of it all his life. 

All that he saw and did on this tour was, a few years 
later, to provide him with poetic material. In Constantinople 
he one day saw the street dogs devouring the flesh of a 
corpse; on this real scene are based the descriptions of 
horrors in The Siege of Corinth and in the Eighth Canto of 
Don Juan (assault of Ismail). After his return to Athens 
from a tour in the Morea, he would seem himself to have 
been concerned in the love affair on which The Giaour is 
based. (See the Marquis of Sligo's letter to Byron.) What 
we know for certain is, that one day, as he was returning from 
bathing at the Piraeus, he met a detachment of Turkish 
soldiers carrying, sewn up in a sack, a young girl, who was 
to be thrown into the sea because she had accepted a Chris- 
tian as her lover. Pistol in hand, Byron compelled the 
savage troop to turn back, and partly by bribery, partly by 
threats, procured the girl's release. 

This life of travel and adventure did not produce the 
mental equilibrium which Byron lacked. His last letters 
from abroad reveal settled melancholy. The disgust with 
life which is the result of aimlessness seems to weigh him 
to the earth. And he feels that he is coming home deep in 
debt, " with a body shaken by one or two smart fevers," and 
to a country where he has no friends. He expects to be 
met only by creditors. What did meet him was the news 
of his mother's dangerous illness. He hastened to Newstead 
to see her once more, but she had died the day before he 

vol. iv. S 



274 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

arrived. Her maid found him in the evening sitting beside 
the corpse. She had heard his sobs through the closed 
door. On her begging him to try to control his grief, he 
burst into tears, and exclaimed : " Oh, Mrs. By, I had but 
one friend in the world, and she is gone ! " Nevertheless, 
his excessive dislike to his grief being witnessed by others, 
was sufficient to prevent his following his mother's remains 
to the grave. He stood at the Abbey door till the funeral 
procession had moved off ; then, turning to his attendant, 
young Rushton, desired him to fetch the sparring-gloves, 
and proceeded to his usual exercise with the boy. At last, 
the struggle to keep up seeming too much for him, he flung 
away the gloves and retired to his room. During the pro- 
tracted fit of melancholy into which he sank, he made a will, 
in which he again ordered that he should be buried beside 
his dog. 

Byron had hardly landed before his friend Dallas asked 
him if he had brought any poetry back with him from his 
travels. The young poet, who was tolerably destitute of the 
critical sense, produced, not without pride, Hints from Horace, 
a new satire in Pope's style. With this work Mr. Dallas was 
very justifiably disappointed. On returning it next morning 
he asked if his friend had written nothing else, on which 
Byron handed him some short poems, and what he called " a 
number of stanzas in Spenser's measure," chiefly descriptive 
of the countries he had visited. These last were the first 
two cantos of Childe Harold; and at the urgent request of 
Dallas they were at once given to the printer. 

In the mind of the reader of to-day, the impression pro- 
duced by these two cantos is apt to be mixed up with that 
produced by the last two (written six or seven years later) ; 
but whoever desires to understand Byron's development 
must be careful to keep the two impressions perfectly distinct 
from each other. The gap between the first and the second 
half of Childe Harold is as wide as the gap between this same 
second half and Don Juan. 

The stanzas which Byron showed Dallas are melodious, 
sincere in feeling, and occasionally grand ; they were the 
first of the full, harmonious strains which were henceforward 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 275 

to issue from the lips of this poet as long as he breathed 
the breath of life. But they only faintly forecast what the 
man was to be, with whose fame, ten years later, the con- 
tinent of Europe rang. As yet, powerful descriptions of 
nature form the main ingredient in his poetry ; the lyric 
outbursts are few and far between ; to the casual reader 
these stanzas would seem simply to convey a world-weary 
young English aristocrat's impressions of travel, ennobled 
by the stateliness of the style — for the tone of Childe Harold 
is as idealistic and serious as that of Don Juan is realistic 
and humorous. 

The mood is one of monotonous melancholy. Byron 
is not yet the poet who bounds from one feeling to another, 
by preference its exact opposite, in order to make each as 
strong as possible, and then hacks and hews at them — the 
harder, the extremer the tension he has produced. But 
though we as yet only catch the outline of this poet's 
countenance, though we perceive nothing of its keenly 
satirical expression or of its now impudent, now merry smile, 
we nevertheless divine from the fervent youthful pathos that 
we are in the presence of the strongest personality in the 
literature of the day. There is an Ego in this poem which 
dominates every detail, an Ego which does not lose itself in 
any feeling, does not forget itself in any cause. 

The other literary personalities of the day could meta- 
morphose — could etherealise, liquefy, crystallise — themselves; 
they could become invisible behind another personality, or 
transform themselves into cosmic beings, or merge them- 
selves entirely in sensations received from without ; but here 
we have an Ego which, whatever happens, is always con- 
scious of itself, and always comes back to itself ; and it is 
an agitated, passionate Ego, of whose emotions the movement 
of even the most unimportant lines reminds us, as the 
whisper of the shell reminds us of the roar of the ocean. 

Childe Harold (in the first draft Childe Burun) leaves 
his country after an ill-spent youth, in a mood of splenetic 
melancholy, leaving behind no friends and no loved 
one. His is the youthful weariness of life induced by a 
constitution and state of health inclining to melancholy, and 



276 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

by an all too early satiety of pleasure. There is not a trace 
in him of the confident gaiety of youth or of its desire for 
amusement and fame ; he believes, little as he has seen of 
life, that he has done with everything ; and the poet is so 
completely one with his hero that not for one moment does 
he ever soar above him on the wings of irony. 

All this, which made such a powerful impression on the 
public of Byron's day, is tolerably unattractive to a critical 
modern reader ; the aim at effect is plainly discernible, and 
the time when vague world-weariness was interesting is past. 
But no one with a practised eye can fail to see that in this 
case the mask — for mask it is — covers an earnest and a 
suffering countenance. The mask is that of a hermit ; pluck 
it off, and there still remains a man of a solitary nature ! 
The mask is grandiose melancholy ; throw it away ; beneath 
it there is real sadness 1 Harold's shell-bedecked pilgrim's 
cloak may be nothing but a kind of ball domino ; but it 
covers a youth of ardent feelings, with a keen understanding, 
gloomy impressions of life, and an unusually strong love 
of freedom. In Childe Harold's better Ego there is no 
insincerity ; Byron himself will be answerable for all his 
hero thinks and feels. And to those who remember what 
Byron's own conduct, immediately after he wrote Childe 
Harold, was, and who see a direct contradiction between 
the fictitious personage's elderly melancholy and the real 
personage's youthfully ardent pursuit of sensual pleasures, we 
reply, that the reason of the apparent contradiction is simply 
this — that Byron, who in his poetry was still an idealist, 
was unable to reveal his whole nature in the earlier cantos of 
Childe Harold. All that is there is certainly Byron, but there 
was in him, along with this, another and perfectly different 
man ; and it was not until he wrote Don Juan that he suc- 
ceeded in introducing this other Byron, as he lived and 
thought and spoke, into his poetry. The incompleteness of 
the self-description must not be mistaken for simulation or 
affectation. 

In February 1812 Byron made his maiden speech in 
Parliament. He spoke in behalf of the poor weavers of 
Nottingham, whom it was proposed to punish most severely 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 277 

for having destroyed the machinery that was depriving them 
of their bread. It is a youthful and rather elaborate speech, 
but full of life and warmth. Byron was quite in his element 
in pleading the cause of the starving and desperate crowd. 
He very sensibly pointed out to his countrymen that a tenth 
part of the sum which they had willingly voted to enable 
the Portuguese to carry on war, would be sufficient to re- 
lieve the misery which it was proposed to reduce to silence 
by imprisonment and the gallows. Byron's vigorous and 
obstinate hatred of war is one of the grains of sound com- 
mon-sense which are to be found in solution in his poetry ; 
it lends animation to the earlier cantos of Childe Harold. 

His second Parliamentary speech was on the subject of 
Catholic Emancipation. Though it did not please, it is an 
excellent one ; in it Byron acknowledges, and with correct 
logic disposes of, one of the arguments against giving re- 
ligious liberty to the Catholics, namely, that it might equally 
well be given to the Jews. In reference to this same 
emancipation question, we find the following youthfully 
facetious entry in his notebook: "On one of the debates 
on the Catholic question, when we were either equal or 
within one (I forget which), I had been sent for in great haste 
to a ball, which I quitted, I confess, somewhat reluctantly, 
to emancipate five millions of people." Playful utterances of 
this kind (as another example of which take his saying: 
" After all we must end in marriage ; and 1 can conceive 
nothing more delightful than such a state in the country, 
reading the county newspaper, &c, and kissing one's wife's 
maid ") have, because they are so little in keeping with Childe 
Harold's melancholy, amply proved to stupid people that 
nothing was sacred to him. The truth was that, being very 
young and somewhat of a coxcomb, he considered it de- 
rogatory to his dignity to express himself with any feeling ; 
he unconsciously adopted as his motto the saying of St. 
Bernard : Plus labora celare virtuies quant vitia ! 

The maiden speech was a great success, and helped to 
draw the attention of the public to the first two cantos of 
Childe Harold, which came out only two days after the speech 
had been made. The impression produced by Childe Harold 



278 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

was astounding ; Byron instantaneously became a celebrity 
— London's new lion, the lawful sovereign of society for 
the year 1812. The metropolis, as represented by its most 
beautiful, most distinguished, most brilliant, and most culti- 
vated inhabitants, prostrated itself at the feet of this youth 
of twenty-three. If these earlier cantos of Childe Harold had 
been distinguished by the qualities of the later, namely, pro- 
found originality and vigorous honesty, they would not have 
made the noise in the world they did. Great honesty and 
great originality never find favour at once with the general 
public. It was the veiledness, the vague weariness of the 
world and its pleasures, which impressed the crowd ; the 
power of which they caught a glimpse, produced all the more 
effect by revealing itself in a somewhat theatrical manner. 

This was the heyday of dandyism. The upper class 
of London society, with Beau Brummell as its master of 
ceremonies, gave itself up to a luxuriousness and licentious- 
ness which had not had their parallel since the days of 
Charles II. Dinner-parties and balls, the play-house, the 
gaming-table, pecuniary entanglements, amorous intrigues, 
seductions and the duels consequent thereon, occupied the 
days and nights of the aristocracy. And Byron was the 
hero of the day — nay, of the year. Could there have been 
a more suitable object for the admiration and worship of a 
society which was bored and burdened by its own inanity ? 
So young, so handsome, and so wicked ! For no one 
doubted but that he was as dangerous a rou6 as his hero. 
Byron had not Scott's coldbloodedness and mental equi- 
librium to oppose to temptations and flattery. He allowed 
himself to glide with the stream which supported him on its 
surface. The artist in him craved for an experience of 
every mood, and rejected none. He maintained his fame 
as a poet with ease ; there followed on one another with 
short intervals his narrative poems, The Giaour (May 18 13), 
The Bride of Abydos (December of the same year), and The 
Corsair (completed on New Year's Day 18 14). Of this last 
work 13,000 copies were sold in one day. The bitter Ode 
to Napoleon, on the occasion of his abdication, showed that 
Byron, in his pursuit of poetry, was not entirely oblivious 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 279 

of the political events of the day. In 181 5 he wrote 
Parisina and The Siege of Corinth. The novelty, the foreign- 
ness, and the passion of these works, entranced the blas6 
aristocratic society of London. Their author was the 
prodigy on whom all eyes were turned. In the drawing- 
rooms young ladies trembled with the delightful hope that 
he might take them in to dinner, and at the dinner-table 
hardly dared to partake of what was set before them, be- 
cause it was known that he did not like to see women 
eating. Owners of albums in which he had deigned to 
write a few lines were objects of envy. A specimen of his 
handwriting was in itself a treasure. People talked of all 
the Greek and Turkish women to whom his love must have 
meant death, and wondered how many husbands he had 
killed. His brow and his glancing eye suggested wicked- 
ness. He wore his hair unpowdered, and it was as wild as 
his passions. Different in everything from ordinary mortals, 
he was as abstemious as his Corsair ; the other day at 

Lord 's had he not let eleven courses go by untasted 

and asked for biscuits and soda-water ? What an uncom- 
fortable position for the lady of the house, who was so 
proud of her cook 1 And what an extraordinary piece of 
eccentricity in a country where a hearty appetite is one of 
the national virtues ! 

We see Childe Harold transformed into Don Juan. The 
solitary pilgrim becomes the drawing-room lion. On the 
ladies, Byron's rank, youth, and remarkable beauty naturally 
made almost more impression than his poetry. In the Life 
of Sir Walter Scott we find the following opinion given by 
him on the subject of his fellow-author's personal appear- 
ance : " As for poets, I have seen, I believe, all the best of 
our own time and country — and, though Burns had the 
most glorious eyes imaginable, I never thought any of them 
would come up to an artist's notion of the character except 
Byron. . . . And the prints give one no impression of him 
— the lustre is there, but it is not lighted up. Byron's 
countenance is a thing to dream of." One of the beauties 
of the day said to herself the first time she saw him : " That 
pale face is my fate." 



280 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Women Jiad, undoubtedly, always occupied a large share 
of Byron's time and thoughts; but expressions in Childe 
Harold gave rise to the report that he had maintained a 
regular harem at Newstead — the harem appearing as a 
matter of fact to have consisted of one odalisque. Absurdly 
exaggerated stories were in circulation of the amorous ad- 
ventures in which he had played the part of hero during 
his travels. The consequence of all this was that he was 
positively besieged by women ; his table was covered every 
day with letters from ladies, known and unknown to him. 
One came to his house (probably in imitation of Kaled in 
Lara) disguised as a page; many came undisguised. He 
told Medwin that one day very soon after his wedding he 
found three married ladies in his wife's drawing-room, whom 
he at once recognised as " all birds of the same feather." 

This life, crowded with empty pleasures and with 
triumphs for his vanity, at any rate suited Byron better 
than quiet ; for, as he says in Childe Harold, " quiet to quick 
bosoms is a hell." But, in all this whirl of excitement, did 
his heart ever really come into play ? It would seem not. 
The love-affair which engrossed him much at this time and 
also influenced his future, was, as we know from his own 
letters, only a whirlpool within the whirlpool, and as such 
attracted him ; but it left his heart quite cold. 

Lady Caroline Lamb, a young lady of good family, and 
wife of the statesman afterwards known as Lord Melbourne, 
had long cherished an ardent desire to make the acquaintance 
of the author of Childe Harold. Hers was a wild, fantastic, 
restless nature, which rebelled against every kind of control 
and promptly followed the inspiration of the moment ; there- 
fore she was in so far a kindred spirit of the poet. She 
was three years older than Byron, fair-haired, with a slender, 
beautiful figure, and a soft voice ; her manner, though 
affected, was exceedingly attractive. She played in Byron's 
life the part which Frau von Kalb played in Schiller's. 1 

In Lady Morgan's Memoirs we find the following lively account by Lady 
Caroline Lamb herself of the beginning of her acquaintance with Byron : — " Lady 
Westmoreland knew him in Italy. She took on her to present him. The women 
suffocated him. I heard nothing of him, till one day Rogers (for he, Moore, and 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 281 

Her connection with him made the lady so much talked 
of, that her mother did everything in her power to break 
it off. Lady Caroline was at last persuaded to go to 
Ireland on a visit. Byron wrote a farewell letter to her, 
of which she allowed Lady Morgan to make a copy — a 
letter which is typical of his style in his immature years, and 
in which no one with any knowledge of the human heart 
will find the language of love. It reminds us of Hamlet's 
ambiguous letter to Ophelia. 

" If tears which you saw, and know I am not apt to 
shed, — if the agitation in which I parted from you, — agita- 
tion which you must have perceived through the whole of 
this most nervous affair, did not commence until the moment 
of leaving you approached, — if all I have said and done, and 
am still but too ready to say and do, have not sufficiently 
proved what my real feelings are, and must ever be towards 
you, my love, I have no other proof to offer. ... Is there 
anything in earth or heaven that would have made me so 
happy as to have made you mine long ago ? You know I 
would with pleasure give up all here and beyond the grave 
for you, and in refraining from this, must my motives be 
misunderstood ? I care not who knows this, what use is 
made of it, — it is to you and to you only that they are, 

Spencer, were all my lovers) — Rogers said, * You should know the new poet,' and 
he offered me the MS. of Child* Harold to read. I read it, and that was enough. 
Rogers said, ' He has a club-foot, and bites his nails.' I said, ' If he was as ugly as 
^Esop I must know him.' I was one night at Lady Westmoreland's ; the women 
were all throwing their heads at him. Lady Westmoreland led me up to him. I 
looked earnestly at him, and turned on my heel. My opinion in my journal was, 
4 mad — bad — and dangerous to know.' A day or two passed ; I was sitting with 
Lord and Lady Holland, when he was announced. Lady Holland said, * I must 
present Lord Byron to you.' Lord Byron said, 'That offer was made to you before ; 
may I ask why you rejected it ? ' He begged permission to come and see me. He 
did so the next day. Rogers and Moore were standing by me : I was on the sofa. 
I had just come in from riding. I was filthy and heated. When Lord Byron was 
announced, I flew out of the room to wash myself. When I returned, Rogers said, 
* Lord Byron, you are a happy man. Lady Caroline has been sitting here in all her 
dirt with us, but when you were announced, she flew to beautify herself. . . . From 
that moment, for more than nine months, he almost lived at Melbourne House. It 
was then the centre of all gaiety, at least, in appearance. ... All the ban ton of 
London assembled here every day. There was nothing so fashionable, Byron 
contrived to sweep them all away." These utterances, reported with stenographic 
exactness, give an excellent idea of the fashionable life of the day in London. 



282 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

yourself. I was and am yours freely and entirely to obey, 
to honour, love, and fly with you when, where, and how 
yourself might and may determine." 

It will surprise no one to learn that a few months later 
Byron himself put an end to the liaison ; his love had never 
been anything but the kind of reflected love which imitates 
in a mirror all the motions of the flame, without fire of its 
own. Meeting Byron at a ball soon afterwards, Lady 
Caroline, maddened by his indifference, seized the first sharp 
thing that she could lay hold of — some say a pair of scissors, 
others a broken glass — and tried to cut her throat with it. 
After the ineffectual attempt at suicide, she (according to 
Countess Guiccioli) made "the most incredible promises" 
to a young nobleman on condition that he would challenge 
and kill the faithless one ; nevertheless she herself soon 
called at her quondam lover's apartments, "by no means 
with the intention of cutting either her own throat or his." 
He was not at home. The words which she wrote on a 
title-page of a book she found on his table, inspired the 
epigram : " Remember thee!" which is to be found amongst 
Byron's poems. 

Pining for revenge, Lady Caroline now seized her pen 
and wrote the novel, GUnarvon, which came out at the most 
unfortunate moment possible for Byron, namely, just after 
his wife had left him, and was one of the most active in- 
gredients in the ferment of public disapproval. The book, 
which has as its motto two lines from The Corsair: — 

u He left a name to all succeeding times, 
Link'd with one virtue and a thousand crimes, 1 ' 

pictures Byron as a perfect demon of dissimulation and 
wickedness, endowed with all his hero's worst character- 
istics. But, possibly by way of excuse for her own conduct, 
the authoress has not been able to resist giving him some 
admirable and attractive qualities. One passage runs: "Had 
he betrayed in his manner that freedom, that familiarity so 
offensive in men, but yet so frequent amongst them, she 
would have shuddered ; but from what was she to fly ? Not 
from the gross adulation, or the easy, flippant protestations 



BYRON : THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 283 

to which all women are, soon or late, accustomed ; but from 
a respect at once refined and flattering, an attention devoted 
even to her least wishes, yet without appearing subservient — 
a gentleness and sweetness as rare as they were fascinating ; 
and these combined with all the powers of imagination, 
vigour of intellect, and brilliancy of wit which none ever 
before possessed in so eminent a degree." 

In 1817, when Byron was living in Venice, an Italian 
translation of Glenarvon was sent to press there. The censor 
refused to sanction its publication until he had ascertained if 
Lord Byron had any objections. Byron assured him that 
he had none. Only once again in the biography of Lord 
Byron is mention made of Lady Caroline Lamb. As the 
funeral procession following his corpse (which had been 
brought home from Greece) was slowly making its way 
from London to Newstead, it was met by a lady and gentle- 
man on horseback. The lady inquired who it was that was 
to be buried. When she heard, she fell fainting from her 
horse. She was the authoress of Glenarvon. 

Byron's giddy, wild London career was arrested by the 
most fateful event of his life — his marriage. Life, as he had 
lived it, had not inspired him with much respect for woman; 
but the kind of woman he loved was the devoted, self- 
sacrificing creature whom he delighted in portraying in 
his poems. The woman whom chance made his wife had 
a strong, obstinate English character. Miss Anne Isabella 
Milbanke was the only child of a rich baronet. Byron was 
attracted t?y her simplicity and modesty, and tempted by 
the prospect of restoring Newstead with the help of her 
fortune. She annoyed him by refusing his hand when he 
first offered it to her, but fascinated him again by soon after- 
wards beginning a friendly correspondence with him of her 
own accord. In course of time she returned a favourable 
answer to a letter of proposal which he had written in an 
unwarrantably frivolous mood, and sent because a friend 
who read it thought it a pity that such "a pretty letter" 
should not go. 

From motives which were, one and all, bad — motives of 
vanity, motives of vulgar aggrandisement — Byron rushed 



284 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

into a marriage which did not end worse than might have 
been expected. His mood during his engagement was a 
comparatively cheerful one. " Of course I am very much in 
love," he writes to a lady friend, u and as silly as all single 
gentlemen must be in that sentimental situation." And 
to another friend he writes: "I am now the happiest of 
mortals, for I became engaged a week ago. Yesterday I met 
young F., also the happiest of mortals, for he too is en- 
gaged." So childish are all the letters written at this time 
that, if we believe them, we must suppose Byron's only 
serious trouble to have been the necessity of being married 
in a blue coat. However, as the wedding-day approached, 
he became ever more ill at ease ; the relations between his 
parents had early inoculated him with a dread of marriage. 
His feelings during the wedding ceremony he has described 
in The Dream. He told Medwin that he trembled and gave 
wrong answers. 

" The treacle-moon," as Byron calls it, did not run its 
course unshadowed by clouds. Two months after his 
marriage he writes to Moore from the country, where he and 
his wife were staying with her parents : " I am in a state of 
sameness and stagnation, totally occupied in consuming the 
fruits, and sauntering, and playing dull games at cards, 
and yawning, and trying to read old Annual Registers and 
the daily papers, and gathering shells on the shore, and 
watching the growth of stunted gooseberry bushes in the 
garden." A few days later he writes : " I have been very 
comfortable here — listening to that d — d monologue which 
elderly gentlemen call conversation, and in which my pious 
father-in-law repeats himself every evening — save one, when 
he played upon the fiddle. However, they have been very 
kind and hospitable. . . . Bell is in health and unvaried 
good-humour and behaviour." 

Pegasus was beginning to feel the yoke gall. However, 
the young couple presently went to London, where they 
lived in great style, keeping carriages and horses, and enter- 
taining sumptuously, until Byron's creditors began to push 
their claims. Lady Byron's dowry of .£10,000 disappeared 
like dew in sunshine, quickly followed by ^8000, to which 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 285 

Byron had lately fallen heir. Things became so bad that 
he had to sell his library. In order to prevent this sale, 
Murray, his publisher, offered him ^1500 as remuneration 
for his writings ; but Byron's false pride led him to return 
the draft torn in pieces. Eight executions followed on each 
other in as many months ; the very beds were seized at 
last. 

Such was the position of affairs when, in December 181 5, 
Lady Byron gave birth to her daughter Ada. 

The spoiled young heiress had, of course, never dreamt 
that such experiences awaited her. The married life of the 
couple was at first by no means unhappy. They drove out 
together, and the young wife waited patiently in the carriage 
while her husband paid calls. She wrote letters for him and 
copied out poems, among others The Bride of Corinth. But 
there had very soon been small misunderstandings. Lady 
Byron seems to have been in the habit of constantly inter- 
rupting her husband with questions and remarks when he 
was writing, thereby giving occasion to outbursts of temper 
which she considered most unseemly. She had had no 
experience of such passionate violence and eccentric be- 
haviour as she was soon to witness. On one occasion she 
saw Byron, when in a passion, throw his watch into the fire 
and break it to pieces with the poker ; on another, in fun or 
by accident, he fired off a pistol in her room. Ere long, too, 
she was suffering the pangs of jealousy. She knew of his 
notoriety as the hero of many amours, and knew more par- 
ticularly about his connection with Lady Caroline Lamb, who 
was her own near relative. Byron had, unfortunately for 
his domestic peace, become a member of the Committee of 
Management of Drury Lane Theatre, and his correct lady was 
much perturbed by the business relations with actresses, 
singers, and ballet-dancers which this entailed. A person 
in her service (described by Lord Byron in A Sketch) began 
to act the spy, ransacking Byron's drawers and reading his 
letters. And there is yet another disagreeable matter, which 
we shall notice later. 

With her husband's consent, the young wife, about a 
month after the child's birth, left the unsettled and unhappy 



286 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

home, and went on a visit to her parents. But hardly had 
she arrived before her father intimated to Byron that she 
would not return to him. While on the journey she had 
written a letter to him (now in print) which begins : li Dear 
Duck," and ends quite as affectionately. Byron's surprise 
may be imagined. He replied to his father-in-law that in 
this matter he could not acknowledge paternal authority, and 
must hear from his wife herself. Her communication was 
to the same effect. In 1830 Lady Byron publicly affirmed 
that she had written to her husband as affectionately as she 
did, in the belief that he was insane ; and that if this idea of 
hers had proved to be the correct one, she would have borne 
everything as his faithful wife, but that in no other case 
could she have continued to live with him. 

In a fragment of a novel, written by Byron in 181 7, we 
have a corroboration of this assertion : — " A few days after, 
she set out for Aragon, with my son, on a visit to her father 
and mother. I did not accompany her immediately, having 
been in Aragon before. . . . During her journey I received 
a very affectionate letter from Donna Joseph a, apprising me 
of the welfare of herself and my son. On her arrival at the 
chateau, I received another, still more affectionate, pressing 
me, in very fond and rather foolish terms, to join her imme- 
diately. As I was preparing to set out from Seville, I re- 
ceived a third — this was from her father, Don Jos6 di Cardozo, 
who requested me, in the politest manner, to dissolve our 
marriage. I answered him, with equal politeness, that I 
would do no such thing. A fourth letter arrived — it was 
from Donna Josepha, in which she informed me that her 
father's letter was written by her particular desire. I re- 
quested the reason by return of post : she replied, by express, 
that as reason had nothing to do with the matter, it was 
unnecessary to give any — but that she was an injured and 
excellent woman. I then inquired why she had written to 
me the two preceding affectionate letters, requesting me to 
come to Aragon. She answered, that was becauee she 
believed me out of my senses — that, being unfit to take care 
of myself, I had only to set out on this journey alone, and, 
making my way without difficulty to Don Jos6 di Cardozo's, 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 287 

I should there have found the tenderest of wives and — a 
strait-waistcoat." 

When it became known that Byron's wife had left him, a 
sudden and complete change in the attitude of the public 
towards him took place. He had awakened one morning 
after the publication of Childe Harold to find himself famous ; 
now came a morning when he awoke to find himself in- 
famous, regarded by society as an outlaw. 

Chief among the causes of this revulsion was envy — not 
that envy in the hearts of the gods which the ancients re- 
garded as the cause of the downfall of the great — but foul, 
base envy in the breasts of his fellow-men. He stood so 
high ; he was so great ; with all his faults he had never sunk 
to the level of vulgar, mechanical respectability ; confident 
in his powers and the favour of fortune, he had never deigned 
to seek friends who could protect him, or heeded how many 
enemies he made. These latter had long been innumer- 
able. Chief among the envious were his literary rivals ; and 
amongst all the many species of envy, the envy of authors is 
one of the most venomous. He had derided them, had called 
them the writers of a decadent period, had taken from some 
the name they had won, and made it impossible for others to 
win a name — why should he be admired and idolised whilst 
they were in vain arranging their locks for the reception of 
a wreath which never came ? What joy to be able to tear 
him from the golden throne of fame and besmirch him 
with the mud in which they themselves stood ! 

He had long been suspected and secretly hated by the 
orthodox in religion and politics. The couple of stanzas in 
Childe Harold which venture in the most cautious terms to 
express a doubt that we shall meet our friends again after 
death, had been greeted with a cry of — heresy ! and a whole 
book, Anti-Byron, had been written against them. The two 
verses to the Princess Charlotte, which, under the title, Lines 
to a Lady Weeping, were appended to the first edition of The 
Corsair, and in which the poet condoles with the daughter 
on the occasion of her father, the Prince Regent's, desertion 
of the Liberal side in politics, had set the whole Tory party 
violently against him. But hitherto he had been protected 



288 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

by his magic influence over men's minds as by an invisible 
coat of mail. This unfortunate episode in his private life 
offered a weak point, against which his enemies diverted the 
full force of public opinion. 

The life led by Lady Byron and her family was the life 
on which English public opinion has set the seal of its 
peculiar approbation ; and it was easy to convince the 
public that the man whom such a wife felt obliged to leave 
must indeed be a monster. Rumours began to spread ; 
the slanders once conceived and brought forth, developed 
feet to walk on, wings to fly with, and swelled as they 
flew. Their voices rose from a whisper to a cry, from a 
cry to a deafening roar. Who does not know that con- 
certed piece in the production of which baseness and 
stupidity collaborate, and during the performance of which 
ignorance sings in chorus with conscious villainy, whilst 
spite heightens the effect by the contribution of its most 
piercing trills ! 

Envy in this case entered the service of hypocrisy, and 
took its wages, Refined hypocrisy was, far on into the nine- 
teenth century — as long, namely, as the period of religious 
reaction lasted — a social power, the authority of which differed 
from that of the Inquisitional tribunals of the sixteenth cen- 
tury only in the means it employed, not in the reach and 
efficacy of these means. It wrought through public opinion, 
and public opinion had become what Byron calls it in Childe 
Harold, 

" an omnipotence, — whose veil 
Mantles the earth with darkness, until right 
And wrong are accidents, and men grow pale 
Lest their own judgments should become too bright, 
And their free thoughts be crimes, and earth have too much light" 

As for hypocrisy, he felt incapable of doing justice to it 
unaided. " Oh for a forty-parson power ! " he cries in 
Don Juan : — 

44 Oh for a forty-parson power to chant 

Thy praise, Hypocrisy ! Oh for a hymn 
Loud as the virtues thou dost loudly vaunt, 
Not practise ! Oh for trump of cherubim I " 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 289 

Such a state of matters was inevitable at a period which 
has so much in common with the age when the ancient 
religions and theories of life were in process of dissolution ; 
a period when an old theological theory of the universe 
and of life, everywhere undermined and riddled by science, 
and unable to support itself by its own inherent truth, was 
obliged to cling to the conventional morality of the upper 
classes, which it made as rigid as possible in order to have 
a support in it ; a period when ecclesiastical authority and 
narrow-minded social conservatism, both in a tottering con- 
dition, were endeavouring to uphold each other. Taking 
a bird's-eye view of the psychological history of Europe 
during the first two decades of the century, it actually seems 
to us as if the whole edifice of hypocrisy, the foundations 
of which were laid in the writings of the French e'migre's, 
which rose steadily in those of the German Romanticists, 
and towered to a giddy height during the French Reaction, 
now suddenly fell on the head of one man. 

Macaulay, in his essay on Moore's Life of Byron, 
writing on this subject, says: — "We know no spectacle 
so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical 
fits of morality. In general, elopements, divorces, and 
family quarrels, pass with little notice. We read the 
scandal, talk about it for a day, and forget it But 
once in six or seven years our virtue becomes outrageous. 
We cannot suffer the laws of religion and decency to be 
violated. We must make a stand against vice. We must 
teach libertines that the English people appreciate the im- 
portance of domestic ties. Accordingly some unfortunate 
man, in no respect more depraved than hundreds whose 
offences have been treated with lenity, is singled out as an 
expiatory sacrifice. If he has children, they are to be taken 
from him. If he has a profession, he is to be driven from 
it. He is cut by the higher orders, and hissed by the lower. 
He is, in truth, a sort of whipping-boy, by whose vicarious 
agonies all the other transgressors of the same class are, it 
is supposed, sufficiently chastised. We reflect very com- 
placently on our own severity, and compare with great pride 
the high standard of morals established in England with the 
VOL. IV. T 



290 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Parisian laxity. At length our anger is satiated. Our victim 
is ruined and heart-broken. And our virtue goes quietly to 
sleep for seven years more." 

If the causes of Byron's downfall were of a complex 
nature, the means were simple enough. It was compassed 
by the Press, the only effective instrument in such cases. 
Several of the papers and magazines had taken the oppor- 
tunity to spread slanders about him when criticising his 
verses to the Princess Charlotte ; and more than one of 
them periodically calumniated him. Now they were all at 
liberty to discuss and attack his private life freely, thanks 
to the anonymity which, in spite of the want of naturalness 
and the corruption it entails, still prevails in the English 
Press. What anonymity really means is simply this, that 
the paltriest scribbler, who is hardly fit to hold the pen with 
which he writes his lies, is enabled to put the trumpet of 
moral public opinion to his lips, and let the voice of injured 
virtue resound in thousands of homes. Nor is it enough 
that the one anonymous writer should be able to constitute 
himself the voice of the public in the thousands of copies 
of one newspaper ; he can assume hundreds of forms, can 
write with all kinds of fanciful signatures, and in a dozen 
different newspapers and magazines. A single scribbler 
would have sufficed to provide the whole Press with base 
attacks on a man outlawed by public opinion ; it is easy, 
then, to imagine the number that were made on Byron, 
whose enemies were legion. Among the names given him 
by the Press he himself remembered Nero, Apicius, Caligula, 
Heliogabalus, and Henry VIII. — that is to say, he was 
accused of inhuman cruelty, of insane brutality, of animal 
and unnatural lust ; he was painted with all the colours 
which vileness smears on its palette. The most terrible of 
all the accusations was that which even then went the round 
of the newspapers, and which sullied the fair name of the 
being dearest to him — the accusation of incest. And to all 
this he could not answer a word I He could not fight with 
the mire that bespattered him. 

Slanders sped from mouth to mouth. When Mrs. 
Mardyn, the Drury Lane actress, made her first appearance 



BYRON: THE PASSIONATE PERSONALITY 291 

after the divorce, she was hissed off the stage, because of the 
perfectly groundless report of a liaison between her and Byron, 
to whom, as a matter of fact, she had only spoken twice. 
He himself could not appear on the streets without danger. 
On his way to the House of Lords, where his presence was 
ignored, he was insulted by a respectable crowd. 

Defence or retort being impossible, no course was left 
him, proud as he was, but to bow his head and go. " I 
felt," he writes, " that, if what was whispered, and muttered, 
and murmured, was true, I was unfit for England ; if false, 
England was unfit for me." On the 25th of April, 181 6, he 
set sail, never to return alive. 

It is from this moment that Byron's true greatness dates. 
The blow struck by the Edinburgh Review had roused him, for 
the first time, to intellectual activity. This new blow made 
of him a knight. There is no comparison possible between 
what Byron wrote before, and what he wrote after, the 
event which he himself regarded as his greatest misfortune. 
It was a misfortune sent him by the genius of History, to 
snatch him from the unmanning influence of idolisation, to 
sever the enfeebling connection between him and that society 
and social spirit against which it was his historic mission to 
arouse, with more fortune and more power than any other 
individual, the hostility which was its undoing. 



XIX 
BYRON: HIS SELF-ABSORPTION 

When he had become for the second time a homeless and 
solitary pilgrim, Byron began to occupy himself again with 
the poem of travel in which his youthful sentiments had 
found expression. He added the Third and Fourth Cantos 
to Childe Harold. He turned back and felt the youthful feel- 
ings once again. But what breadth and depth they had 
gained in the interval ! The chord struck in the First and 
Second Cantos was composed of three notes — the note of 

y solitariness, the note of melancholy, and the note of freedom. 
Each one of these had become far clearer and more 
resonant. 

Throughout the first half of the work it is the feeling 
of solitariness which produces the love of nature. "To sit 
on rocks, to muse o'er flood and fell," to climb the trackless 
mountain and lean over the foaming waterfall, alone, was 
not solitariness, but communion with nature ; true solitari- 

J ness was to wander amidst il the crowd, the hum, the shock 
of men," unloving and unloved. {Childe Harold, ii. 25, 26, 27.) 
The outbursts in the stanzas referred to are evoked by 
remembrances of the poet's childhood, spent in the beautiful 
mountain districts of Scotland, or of his visit to the hermit's 
home on " lonely Athos." This was still a love of the solitude 
of nature which resembled Wordsworth's, and which was 
based upon fear of an unknown, strange world of men and 
women. The difference between Wordsworth's and Byron's 
feeling was no more than this — that Wordsworth dwelt 
silently on the natural impression, in the manner of the 
countryman and the landscape painter, while Byron seized 
it with the longing, nervous ardour of the townsman ; and, 
moreover, that Wordsworth loved nature best in her quiet 

- moods, Byron in her wrath. (Childe Harold, ii. 37.) 



BYRON : HIS SELF-ABSORPTION 293 

In the second half of the work the character of the poet's 
solitariness has changed. There is a marked difference 
between the desire for solitary communion with nature 
which Harold felt as an inexperienced youth, and that which 
he felt as a man, at the end of his first circumnavigation 
of the world of men and things. It was now no longer 
fear of human beings, but disgust with them, which drove „ 
him to take refuge with nature. Society, the best society 
of a great metropolis, which to the untrained eye seemed 
so humane, so right-thinking, so refined and chivalrous, had 
turned its wrong side towards him — and the wrong side is 
interesting, but not beautiful. He had learned how much 
friendship the ruined man may reckon on, had learned that 
the only force which he who is making plans for his future 
can exactly calculate is the self-love of his fellow-men, with 
its consequences. So he withdrew into himself again ; and . 
the poetry he wrote at this time is not for men of a sociable 
nature. But the man who has had even a short experience 
of what it is to turn his back on his fellow-men — who in his 
desire to escape from them has left his home, his country, in 
search of a new earth and new skies — who in the solitudes 
of his choice has felt the sight of an approaching human 
being equivalent to a foul spot on his pure, free horizon — 
in the souls of this man and his like, Byron's lyric outbursts 
will find an echo. 

Childe Harold is a solitary. He has learned that he is 
11 the most unfit of men to herd with man," because he is un- 
able " to submit his thoughts to others ... to yield dominion 
of his mind to spirits against whom his own rebelled." But, 

" Where rose the mountains, there to him were friends ; 
Where roll'd the ocean, thereon was his home. 



The desert, forest, cavern, breaker's foam, 
Were unto him companionship ; they spake 
A^nutual language, clearer than the tome 
Of his land's tongue, which he would oft forsake 
For Nature's pages glass'd by sunbeams on the lake." 

Amongst men he droops like a wild-born falcon with dipt 
wing. But in his case, to fly from, is not to hate, mankind. 



294 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

It is not discontent or defiance which keeps his " mind deep 
in its fountain," but fear lest it should " overboil in the hot 
throng," where in a moment 

" We may plunge our years 
In fatal penitence, and in the blight 
Of our own soul, turn all our blood to tears." 

He feels that it is better to be alone, and thus to become a 
"portion of what surrounds him. High mountains are "a 
feeling " to him, but the hum of human cities is a torture. 
The mountain, the sky, and the sea are a part of him, and 
he is a part of them, and to love them is his purest happi- 
ness. In solitude he is least alone ; then his soul is con- 
scious of infinity, a truth which purifies it from self. Harold 
has not loved the world, nor has it loved him. He is proud 
of not having "flattered its rank breath," nor bowed the 
knee to its idols, nor smiled hypocritically, nor echoed the 
cries of the crowd. He was among them, but not of them. 
But he desires that the world and he should part fair foes. 
" I do believe," he says, 

" Though I have found them not, that there may be 
Words which are things, — hopes which will not deceive, 
And virtues which are merciful . . . 
That two, or one, are almost what they seem." 1 

y The feeling of solitariness gradually becomes the feeling of 
melancholy. This note, too, had been struck in the first two 
cantos ; but their melancholy was nothing but the discontent 
of youth. With a wasted youth behind him, he had stood, 
like a phlegmatically mournful Hamlet, at the grave of 
Achilles, declaiming, with a skull in his hand, on the worth- 
lessness of life and fame — this young poet who had not yet 
tasted the sweetness of celebrity, and who in reality hungered 
for nothing so much as for that very fame which, with so 
much argumentative philosophy, he feigned to condemn and 
despise. Now he has tasted it, and learned how little 
nourishment is to be derived from such food. 

1 Child* Harold, iii. 114. 



BYRON: HIS SELF-ABSORPTION 295 

His heart is 

" Even as a broken mirror, which the glass 
In every fragment multiplies ; and makes 
A thousand images of one that was, 
The same and still the more, the more it breaks." 

In the depth of his dejection he turns to the element in 
nature which, by its contrast with his present mood, solaces 
his sufferings — the sea, the free, open sea, upon whose 
mane he had laid his hand as a boy, and which knows him 
as the horse knows his rider. He loves the sea because it 
is unconquerable, because time cannot even write a wrinkle 
on its brow, and it rolls now as it rolled at the dawn of 
creation. But everything in nature reminds him of suffer- 
ing and warfare. The peal of distant thunder is to him an 
alarm-bell, " the knoll of what in me is sleepless — if I rest." 
Even the beautiful, calm lake of Nemi does not remind 
him of anything peaceful and sweet ; he calls it " calm as 
cherished hate." (iv. 173.) 

His melancholy becomes actually choleric. Could he-/ 
breathe all his passion " into one word, and that one word 
were Lightning," he would speak. " Anything but rest I " is 
his watchword. " Quiet to quick bosoms is a hell." There 
is a fire in the soul which, once kindled, is quenchless, and 
the flames of which rise ever higher and wilder ; there is a 
fever which is fatal to all whom it attacks. 

" This makes the madmen who have made men mad 
By their contagion ; Conquerors and Kings, 
Founders of sects and systems, to whom add 
Sophists, Bards, Statesmen, all unquiet things 
Which stir too strongly the soul's secret springs, 
And are themselves the fools to those they fool ; 
Envied, yet how unenviable ! what stings 
Are theirs 1 One breast laid open were a school 

Which would unteach mankind the lust to shine or rule. 

Their breath is agitation, and their life 
A storm whereon they ride, to sink at last, 
And yet so nursed and bigoted to strife, 
That should their days, surviving perils past, 
Melt to calm twilight, they feel overcast 



296 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

With sorrow and supineness, and so die ; 
Even as a flame unfed, which runs to waste 
With its own flickering, or a sword laid by, 
Which eats into itself, and rusts ingloriously. w 

And in a still more despairing mood Harold cries : 

" We wither from our youth, we gasp away — 

Sick — sick ; unfound the boon — unslaked the thirst, 

Though to the last, in verge of our decay, 

Some phantom lures, such as we sought at first — 

But all too late, — so are we doubly curst. 

Love, fame, ambition, avarice — 'tis the same, 

Each idle — and all ill— and none the worst — 

For all are meteors with a different name, 
And Death the sable smoke where vanishes the flame. 

Our life is a false nature — 'tis not in 

The harmony of things, — this hard decree, 

This uneradicable taint of sin, 

This boundless upas, this all-blasting tree, 

Whose root is earth, whose leaves and branches be 

The skies which rain their plagues on men like dew — 

Disease, death, bondage — all the woes we see, 

And worse, the woes we see not. 11 • • • 

In the First Canto of Childe Harold we already find the 
hoe of freedom (the third note in the chord struck by the 
poem) exalted as the one force capable of emancipating 
from the despair with which the universal misery (the 
Weltschmerz, as the Germans call it) has overwhelmed the 
soul. It has this power because it provides a practical 
task. During his first visit to Portugal, Childe Harold 
exclaimed : " Oh, that such hills upheld a free-born race ! " 
And to the Spaniards he cried : 

u Awake, ye sons of Spain ! awake 1 advance ! 
Lo, Chivalry, your ancient goddess, cries." 

And it was in the course of his first tour, too, that he thus 
apostrophised the subjugated Greeks, who went on hoping 
for help from other nations : — 

u Hereditary bondsmen ! know ye not 
Who would be free themselves must strike the blow? 
By their right arms the conquest must be wrought ? 
Will Gaul or Muscovite redress ye ? no I 



BYRON: HIS SELF-ABSORPTION 297 

True, they may lay your proud despoilers low, 
But not for you will Freedom's altars flame* 



When riseth Lacedemon's hardihood, 
When Thebes Epaminondas rears again, 
When Athens' children are with hearts endued, 
When Grecian mothers shall give birth to men, 
Then may'st thou be restored ; but not till then." 

But his love of liberty at that time was of a purely political / 
nature ; it was the free-born Englishman's indignation at 
seeing other nations unable to shake off a foreign yoke 
to which his own nation would never have dreamt of 
submitting. 

Now he has learned what liberty in the wide, full, 
universal meaning of the word is. Now he feels that free \/ 
thought is the first essential requisite of all spiritual life. 

u Yet let us ponder boldly— 'tis a base 

Abandonment of reason to resign 

Our right of thought — our last and only place 

Of refuge ; this, at least, shall still be mine : 

Though from our birth the faculty divine 

Is chain'd and tortured— cabin'd, cribb'd, confined, 

And bred in darkness, lest the truth should shine 

Too brightly on the unprepared mind, 
The beam pours in, for time and skill will couch the blind." 

And it is his intention not merely to ponder, but to act. 
Invoking Time, the great avenger, whom he reminds that he 
has borne the hatred of the world with calm pride — and he 
has experienced all its varieties of hatred, 

u From mighty wrongs to petty perfidy, 



From the loud roar of foaming calumny 
To the small whisper of the as paltry few, 
And subtler venom of the reptile crew n — 



he concludes with the prayer : " Let me not have worn this 
iron in my soul in vain I " 

Now, his personal woes shrink into nothing when he 
beholds the gigantic ruins of Rome ; and, like the Sulpicius 



298 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

with whose feelings Chateaubriand endowed the hero of 
Les Martyrs, he feels the insignificance of his fate compared 
with that which has swept away the cities of Greece. He 
writes : — 

u Oh Rome ! my country ! city of the soul I 
The orphans of the heart must turn to thee, 
Lone mother of dead empires 1 and control 
In their shut breasts their petty misery. 

Wandering in youth, I traced the path of him, 
The Roman friend of Rome's least mortal mind, 
The friend of Tully.° 

And when, not satisfied with liberty of thought alone, he 
turns his attention to practical matters and occupies himself 
with the great political struggles of the day, he does not 
content himself with repeating the old invocations to the 
departed, or with crying to Venice that she has drowned the 
glory and honour of centuries in the mire of slavery, and 
that it would be better for her to be whelm'd beneath the 
waves. No, he boldly attacks the mighty, the victors of 
Waterloo, whom he scornfully calls "the apes of him who 
humbled once the proud " ; and then passes from the out- 
ward, political aspect of the great European conflicts, to 
their inner, social significance. 

To all appearance, he says, France has uprooted old 
prejudices, and laid in ruins " things which grew, breathed 
from the birth of time," only to see dungeons and thrones 
rebuilt upon the same foundation. " But this will not endure." 
Mankind have at last felt their strength. And even though 
France " got drunk with blood to vomit crime/' 

u Yet, Freedom ! yet thy banner, torn, but flying, 

Streams like the thunderstorm against the wind ; 

Thy trumpet voice, though broken now and dying, 

The loudest still the tempest leaves behind ; 

Thy tree hath lost its blossoms, and the rind, 

Chopp'd by the axe, looks rough and little worth, 

But the sap lasts — and still the seed we find 

Sown deep, even in the bosom of the North ; 
So shall a better spring less bitter fruit bring forth." 



BYRON: HIS SELF-ABSORPTION 299 

And of himself the poet writes : — 

" But I have lived, and have not lived in vain : 
My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire, 
And my frame perish even in conquering pain ; 
But there is that within me which shall tire 
Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire, 
Something unearthly, which they deem not of, 
Like the remember'd tone of a mute lyre." 

Thus do the three chief feelings expressed in this beauti- 
ful poem — solitariness, melancholy, and love of freedom — 
gradually become one greater feeling ; the mind of the poet 
widens and deepens with each canto. Wordsworth had 
identified his Ego with England ; Scott and Moore had 
given the feelings of Scotland and Ireland expression in 
their poetry ; but Byron's Ego represents universal 
humanity ; its sorrows and hopes are those of all man- 
kind. After this Ego has, in manly, energetic style, with- 
drawn into itself and lived for a time absorbed in its solitary 
grief, that grief widens into compassion for all the sufferings 
and sorrows of humanity ; the hard, selfish crust of the Ego 
is broken, and there issues forth the ardent love of liberty, 
to encompass and to elevate the poet's whole generation. 
Now his mind is attuned to worship, and he cries : — 

" Not vainly did the early Persian make 

His altar the high places and the peak 

Of earth-o'ergazing mountains. . . . 

Come and compare 

Columns and idol-dwellings, Goth or Greek, 

With Nature's realms of worship, earth and air, 
Nor fix on fond abodes to circumscribe thy prayer." 



XX 

BYRON: THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT 

After visiting the battle-field of Waterloo, Byron went, by 
way of the Rhine, to Switzerland, where he spent several 
months, residing most of the time in the neighbourhood of 
Geneva. In a boarding-house there, he for the first time 
met Shelley. Shelley, who was Byron's junior by four 
years, had sent him, at the time of its publication, a copy 
of Queen Mab ; but the letter accompanying the book had 
miscarried, and no further communication had passed between 
them. Shelley had arrived at Geneva a fortnight before 
Byron, accompanied by Mary Godwin and her step-sister, 
Miss Jane Clairmont, who had always passionately admired 
Byron. His illegitimate daughter Allegra was the fruit of 
the brief connection between him and this young lady. 

Intercourse with Shelley produced on Byron's mind 
some of the strongest, deepest impressions which it was 
capable of receiving. The first great impression was that 
made by Shelley's personality and view of life. In him 
Byron for the first time came into contact with a man of 
a perfectly modern and perfectly emancipated mind. In 
spite of his genius for assimilating everything that harmonised 
with his own nature, it was but a half education, in philo- 
sophy as in literature, which Byron had received ; and he 
had hitherto been led by sympathies rather than convictions. 
Now Shelley, glowing with the enthusiasm of an apostle, 
his doubts long since disposed of, a true priest of humanism, 
came across his path. The dissipated life of London society, 
and the pressing burden of his private misfortunes, had 
allowed Byron neither tranquillity of mind nor leisure to 
reflect on the problems of existence or on the reformation 
of humanity ; he had been too much occupied with himself. 



BYRON: THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT 301 

Now, at the moment in his literary career when his Ego was 
beginning to expand, he was brought into contact with a 
spirit which baptized with fire. He gladly welcomed the 
new influence ; and in much of what he now wrote it is 
plainly perceptible. The numerous pantheistic outbursts in 
the Third Canto of Childe Harold are undoubtedly, one and 
all, the fruit of conversations with Shelley ; worthy of special 
attention is the beautiful passage (iii. 100) in which every- 
thing in Nature is assumed to be a manifestation of " undy- 
ing Love" — an expression of Shelley's theory of love and 
beauty being the mysterious powers which uphold the world. 
In one of the notes in his journal, Byron at this time goes so 
far in his Shelley-derived pantheism as to write : " The feel- 
ing with which all around Clarens and the opposite rocks of 
Meillerie is invested, is of a still higher and more compre- 
hensive order than the mere sympathy with individual 
passion ; it is a sense of the existence of love in its most 
extended and sublime capacity, and of our own participation 
of its good and of its glory : it is the great principle of the 
universe, which is there more condensed, but not less mani- 
fested ; and of which, though knowing ourselves a part, we 
lose our individuality, and mingle in the beauty of the 
whole." 

Shelley's influence is also traceable in the spirit scenes 
in Man/red, and very specially in the third act of the drama, 
which was re-written by his advice. And as to Cain, even if 
Shelley, as he affirms, had no actual share in the writing of 
the work, it certainly would not have been what it is if Byron 
had never known him. 

The two poets saw Chillon and all its beautiful surround- 
ings in company ; and Byron received the second great 
impression which was to bear fruit in his poetry — the 
impression of the Alps. Coming from the confinement and 
close atmosphere of the London drawing-rooms, it was a 
relief to him to let his eye rest on the eternal snow, and the 
giant peaks that tower sky-high above the haunts of men. 
His poetic forerunner, Chateaubriand, hated the Alps ; their 
grandeur had an oppressive effect on his vanity ; Byron felt 
at home among them. 



302 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Manfred, which derives its truest claim to admiration 
from its matchlessness as an Alpine landscape, was a direct 
result of the impressions of nature received at this time. 
Taine let himself be tempted to use the strong expression, 
that Byron's Alpine Spirits in Manfred are only stage gods ; 
but Taine, when he wrote this, did not himself know 
Switzerland. 

Nowhere else do circumstances in the same degree incline 
the mind to the personification of nature. Even the ordinary 
traveller feels the temptation. I remember standing one 
evening on the summit of the Right, looking down on the 
beautiful lakes at the foot of the mountain, and the vapoury 
clouds which were driving across them, quite close to their 
surface. Suddenly, far away on the horizon, a little solid 
white cloud appeared. By the time it had reached Pilatus, 
a minute later, it was an enormous vapoury mass. With 
frightful speed it rushed onwards, covering the whole sky 
with the league-wide flaps of its mantle. Sinking down 
towards the lakes, it enveloped the mountain peaks, rode 
along the ridges, filled the hollows; then, spreading itself 
out still wider, it mounted in circles like smoke towards the 
sky, and sank like lead over the towns and villages, effacing 
every colour, and turning the whole into one monotonous 
expanse of grey. The white of the snow, the green of the trees, 
the thousand gleams and colours of the sunlit clouds were 
deluged and gone in one moment. The eye, which had but 
a second before been wandering at will over the immeasur- 
able expanse now, irresistibly attracted, gazed steadfastly at 
the shapeless mass, which, tearing through the sky with the 
force of a sphere in its earliest stage, rapidly approached the 
beholder. It was like the hosts of heaven, like hundreds of 
thousands of ethereal riders, sweeping onwards in closed 
ranks upon winged, silent horses, and, more irresistible than 
any earthly army, tracklessly effacing everything behind 
them, like the hordes of Asia or Attila's Huns. A Scandi- 
navian could not but think of the ride of the Valkyries. The 
moment the cloud reached the Righi, the watchers there 
began to lose sight of each other ; first one, then another, 
disappeared from the view of his companions ; the mist 



BYRON: THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT 303 

slung itself in a clammy, tight embrace round each one, 
closing his mouth and weighing on his breast. 

Natural phenomena of this description suggested the 
apparitions which appear to Manfred. Passage after passage 
from Byron's journal is incorporated in his poem. Not 
unfrequently the entries in their original, careless form are 
fully as effective as when transcribed in verse. " Arrived at 
the Grindelwald ; dined ; mounted again, and rode to the 
higher glacier — like a frozen hurricane* (In Manfred, for the 
sake of the verse — " a tumbling tempest's foam, frozen in a 
moment.") Starlight, beautiful, but a devil of a path ! . . . 
A little lightning ; but the whole of the day as fine in point 
of weather as the day on which Paradise was made. Passed 
whole woods of withered pines, all withered; trunks stripped and 
barkless, branches lifeless; done by a single winter, — their 
appearance reminded me of me and my family." All these 
expressions occur, with slight alterations, in the poem. 

But the time Shelley and Byron spent together, profit- 
able and enjoyable as it was, would have been happier but 
for the behaviour of some of their fellow-countrymen, whose 
curiosity led them to dog the footsteps and spy the actions 
of the two poets. English tourists had the incredible 
impertinence to force their way into Byron's house. When 
a stop was put to this, they stood with telescopes on the 
shore or on the road ; they looked over the garden-wall ; 
and hotel waiters were bribed, as the Venetian gondoliers 
afterwards were, to communicate all that went on. The first 
report set in circulation was, that Byron and Shelley lived in 
"promiscuous intercourse" with two sisters; and, gossip 
by degrees making the two poets out to be incarnate devils, 
the reports gained steadily in repulsiveness. It conse- 
quently hardly surprises us to read that, one day at Madame 
de Stall's, when Byron was announced, a pious old English 
lady, Mrs. Hervey, the novel-writer, fainted when she heard 
the name, as if, says Byron, it had been "his Satanic 
majesty" himself who was appearing. 

Our attempt to understand this actual fear of Byron's 
person, which to us appears so absurd, leads us to the con- 
sideration of the last great impression received by him during 



304 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

his stay by the Lake of Geneva, namely, that produced by 
his clear apprehension of the exact nature of a certain calumny 
which had been for some time in circulation in England, and 
also of the wide-spread belief in it. This was the same story 
which Mrs. Beecher Stowe in the sixties published to the 
world, as having been confidentially communicated to herself 
by Lady Byron, " whilst a heavenly brightness shone from 
that lady's ethereal countenance " — the story of the criminal 
relations between Lord Byron and his step-sister, Augusta 
Leigh. The assurance that such relations had existed became 
in course of time so firmly rooted in Lady Byron's mind that 
(as is proved by a work entitled Medora Leigh, published in 
1869) she did not even shrink from telling Augusta's 
daughter, Medora, who applied to her for assistance when 
in difficulties, that she was not a daughter of Colonel Leigh, 
but of Lord Byron. Lady Byron at the same time promised 
Medora that she would always provide for her maintenance 
— a promise she did not keep. 

At the time he left England, Byron had evidently known 
nothing, or as good as nothing, of this report. He had 
probably not read all the hostile newspaper articles. He 
himself writes that it was not till some time afterwards that 
he heard of all his enemies had done and said ; and he 
blames his friends for having concealed various things from 
him. It was while he was in Switzerland that he learned 
everything. Knowing this, we understand the full meaning 
of the poetry addressed at that time to Augusta. In the 
Third Canto of Childe Harold we find the following stanza : — 

" And there was one soft breast, as hath been said, 
Which unto his was bound by stronger ties 
Than the Church links withal ; and, though unwed, 
Thai love was pure, and, far above disguise 
Had stood the test of mortal enmities 
Still undivided, and cemented more 
By peril, dreaded most in female eyes ; 
But this was firm, and from a foreign shore 
Well to that heart might his these absent greetings pour 1 " 

The Stanzas to Augusta express similar sentiments ; and 
the line, "Though slander'd, thou never couldst shake" 



BYRON: THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT 305 

(in the second of the poems to her), shows that she, too, 
knew of the shameful rumours. 

And now we also have the explanation of the sudden 
revulsion which occurred in Switzerland in Byron's feeling 
towards Lady Byron. In the days immediately following the 
separation he had written : il I do not believe that there ever 
was a better, or even a brighter, a kinder, or a more amiable 
and agreeable being than Lady B.," and had laid the blame of 
everything on his own violence and inconsiderateness ; but 
now he sees only the blemishes in her character ; and it is 
while under the overpowering impression made by the 
accusation just alluded to, that he begins the ugly war upon 
a woman, which, if we did not know the circumstances, 
would seem utterly inexcusable, and draws the unflattering 
portrait of his wife as Donna Inez in the First Canto of 
Don Juan. 

Decisive, and positively crushing, evidence against Lady 
Byron was produced in 1869, in the Quarterly Review. Seven 
letters and notes were printed, written after the separation 
by her to Mrs. Leigh, all brimming over with tenderness 
and assurances of affection. It is her " great comfort " that 
Mrs. Leigh is with Lord Byron. " Shall I still be your sister ? 
I must resign my rights to be so considered; but I don't 
think that will make any difference in the kindness I have so 
uniformly experienced from you." "In this at least I am 
4 truth itself ' when I say that whatsoever the situation may 
be, there is no one whose society is dearer to me, or can 
contribute more to my happiness. These feelings will not 
change under any circumstances. . . . Should you hereafter 
condemn me, I shall not love you the less." Thus did Lady 
Byron write to the woman whom, after the lapse of many 
years, she accused as the guilty person who had driven her 
from her husband's house. This friendly correspondence 
between Lady Byron and Mrs. Leigh actually continues 
till Byron's death. His last unfinished letter begins with 
the words : " My dearest Augusta, I received a few days ago 
your and Lady Byron's report of Ada's health." And yet 
we are asked to believe that Lady Byron the whole time 
regarded Augusta, who continued to be the reconciling 

VOL. iv. U 



306 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

intermediary between the spouses, as the unnatural criminal 
who was one of the authors of the misfortune of her life. 
What a chaos of lies and insanity ! 

Insanity is the right word, for, as the Quarterly Review 
has remarked, " Lady Byron could at first account for her 
gifted husband's conduct on no hypothesis but insanity; 
and now, by a sort of Nemesis, there is no other hypothesis 
on which the charitable moralist can account for hers. But 
there is this marked difference in their maladies : he mor- 
bidly exaggerated his vices, and she her virtues ; his mono- 
mania lay in being an impossible sinner, and hers in being 
an impossible saint. . . . He in his mad moods did his 
best to blacken his own reputation, whilst her self-delusions 
invariably tended to damage the characters of all that were 
nearest and should have been dearest to her. Which was 
the more dangerous or less amiable delusion of the 
two?" 1 

The last impression received by Byron in Switzerland 
was, then, the crushing one of this slander. His thoughts 
revolved round the story, and the artist in him was ever 
more fascinated by it. George Sand, in a letter to Sainte- 
Beuve, has, with a few rapid touches, described her nature, 
and the nature of the poet generally. She is writing about 
Jouffroy the philosopher, who has expressed a desire to be 
introduced to her, but of whom, as an extremely rigorous 
and unimaginative moralist, she is a little afraid. She 
remarks : tf I have once or twice said to myself : Might it 
not be permissible to eat human flesh ? You have said 
to yourself : People doubtless exist who think that it might 
be permissible to eat human flesh ! Jouffroy has said to 
himself : Such an idea never occurred to any one, &c. " — a 
clever definition of the nature of the poet as compared with 
that of the observer and the moralist. 

Byron was one of those who permit their imaginative 
and their reflective powers every possible experiment ; he 
had a strong inclination to brood over, and let his fancy 

1 Quarterly Review % October 1869. Compare with Karl Elze's admirable work : 
Lord Byron, p. 179. 



BYRON: THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT 307 

play with, what people in general fear and avoid. The 
well-known anecdote (which aroused such horror) of his 
exclaiming, with a knife in his hand : " I wish I knew what 
it feels like to have committed a murder/' means this and 
nothing more. There was the same fascination for him 
in thinking and working himself into the feeling of guilt 
which accompanies a criminal attachment, as there was in 
imagining the feelings which accompany a murder. His 
earliest heroes, such as the Giaour and Lara, have com- 
mitted a mysterious murder ; and, as is well known, Byron 
was promptly credited with the crime of his heroes. Even 
the aged Goethe allowed himself to be so far led astray by 
the gossip that reached his ears as to characterise (in his 
review of Manfred) as il extremely probable " the foolish tale 
of Byron's doings in Florence — where, as a matter of fact, 
he spent one afternoon. The story reported him to have 
had an intrigue there with a young married woman, who 
was, in consequence, killed by her husband — the husband 
in his turn being killed by Byron. Just as the public of 
that day saw evidence of Byron's murderous deeds in 
Lara's tragic mien, the public of our day have seen evi- 
dence of his incest in Manfred's despair and Cain's marriage 
with his sister. It is not surprising that Byron and Moore 
should have meditated writing an imaginary biography of 
Lord Byron, in which he was to seduce so many members 
of the one sex and murder so many of the other, that the 
scandal-mongers would be outbid and possibly silenced. 
The project was only relinquished from fear that the public 
might take the jest as sober earnest. 

It is probable that the subject of love between brother 
and sister was one often discussed by Shelley and Byron 
in the course of their conversations, all the more probable 
from the circumstance that the younger poet's mind was 
also exercised by the unprofitable question. What incensed 
Byron more than anything else was the pious horror dis- 
played by the orthodox Bible Christians, one article of whose 
faith it is that the human race, as descended from one man 
and woman, multiplied by means of marriage between 
brother and sister. Hence he lays emphasis in Cain on 



308 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

the circumstance that Cain and Adah are brother and sister, 
and makes Lucifer explain to Adah that her love for her 
brother is not a sin, though the same passion in her de- 
scendants will be ; to which Adah very logically replies : 

" What is the sin which is not 
Sin in itself? Can circumstance make sin 
Or virtue?" 

Manfred and Cain were the products of all the psycho- 
logical elements which have now been indicated. Manfred 
is the less important of the two works. It does not bear 
the comparison with Goethe's Faust which it invites and 
which has been so often instituted. Goethe himself said 
that an interesting lecture might be given on the subject. 
They have since been given in abundance ; there is more 
originality and talent in Taine's than in any other known 
to me. 

At only one point does Manfred rise superior to Faust. 
To the critic there is no surer criterion of the value of the 
different parts of a work than the circumstance that, after a 
certain length of time, he remembers this or that part and 
has forgotten the rest. I know with certainty that, a year 
after I had read Manfred^ all that I remembered of it was the 
scene in which, in the hour of his death, the hero, who has 
judged himself so severely, first repulses the Abbot and 
such comfort as he would fain give, and then with proud 
contempt dismisses from his presence the evil spirits with 
whom he has nothing in common, and to whom he has 
never given the slightest power over him. The difference 
between this man and Faust, who sells himself to Mephis- 
topheles and falls on his knees before the Earth Spirit, is 
very striking. The English poet has had before his eyes a 
higher ideal of independent manhood than has the German ; 
Byron's hero is a typical man, Goethe's a typical human 
being. Alone in death as in life, Manfred has no more 
communion with hell than he has with heaven. He is his 
own accuser and his own judge. This is Byron's manly 
ethical standpoint. Not till he reaches the lonely heights 
above the snow-line, where human weakness and pliability 



BYRON: THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT 309 

do not thrive, does his soul breathe freely. And the Alpine 
landscape is the natural, inevitable background for his hero, 
whose stern wildness is akin to such scenes. 

But in Manfred only the egoistic side of Byron's nature 
reveals itself. His wide human sympathies find full ex- 
pression for the first time in Cain. Cain is Byron's confes- 
sion of faith — that is to say, the confession of all his doubts 
and all his criticism. When we remember that he had 
neither, like Shelley and the great poets of Germany, attained 
by dint of thought to an emancipated, humanistic view of 
the world and life, nor, like the authors of our own days, had 
the advantage of being able to base his ideas and imaginings 
on the subject of the beliefs of the past and the present 
upon a groundwork of facts established by natural science 
and scientific Biblical criticism, we cannot but marvel 
at the intellectual power and earnestness which he in 
this work brings to bear on the most vital problems of 
life. 

As a private personage Byron was, undoubtedly, as 
much of the dilettante in his free-thought as in his politics. 
His admirable reasoning power revolted against belief in what 
was contrary to reason ; but, like most of the great men at 
the beginning of the century — that is to say, before the 
remarkable development of religion and science which has 
taken place during its progress — he was sceptical and super- 
stitious at one and the same time. As a child, religion had 
been made a weariness to him ; his mother dragged him 
regularly to church, and he revenged himself when he was 
bored beyond all measure by pricking her with a pin. As 
a youth, he was roused to revolt by the rigid literal beliefs 
of the Church of England, as contained in its Thirty-nine 
Articles ; he wrote in his memorandum-book : " It is useless 
to tell me not to reason, but to believe. You might as well 
tell a man not to wake, but sleep" The belief in eternal 
hell-fire was a subject of eternal merriment with him. He 
writes to Moore in 1822: "Do you remember Frederick 
the Great's answer to the remonstrance of the villagers 
whose curate preached against the eternity of hell's tor- 
ments ? It was thus : — ' If my faithful subjects of Schrausen- 



310 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

haussen prefer being eternally damned, let them.' " And he 
horrified his fellow-countrymen by writing in Don Juan : 

M There's nought, no doubt, so much the spirit calms 
As rum and true religion." l 

He disliked the clergy. Trelawny reports him to have 
said : " When did parsons patronise genius ? If one of their 
black band dares to think for himself, he is drummed out or 
cast aside, like Sterne and Swift " ; and Moore gives as one 
of his ejaculations : " These rascals of priests have done more 
harm to religion than all the unbelievers." But, in spite of 
all his jests and jeers, his feeling was one of uncertainty. 
He dared not endorse the conclusions to which Shelley was 
led by his reflections ; and he sent his little daughter to be 
educated in a convent, to withdraw her from the influence 
of the sceptical talk of Shelley and his wife. A beautiful and 
very characteristic letter from Shelley gives decisive evidence 
on the subject of Byron's uncertainty. " Lord Byron," he 
writes, " has read me one or two letters of Moore to him, 
in which Moore speaks with great kindness of me ; and of 
course I cannot but feel flattered by the approbation of a 
man, my inferiority to whom I am proud to acknowledge (!) 
Amongst other things, however, Moore seems to deprecate 
my influence on Lord Byron's mind on the subject of 
religion, and to attribute the tone assumed in Cain to my 
suggestion. ... I think you know Moore. Pray assure 
him that I have not the smallest influence over Lord Byron 
in this particular ; if I had, I certainly should employ it to 
eradicate from his great mind the delusions of Christianity, 
which, in spite of his reason, seem perpetually to recur, and 

1 What Byron refers to in his anecdote of Frederick the Great must be a story I 
find told in D'Alembert's Elogt de Milord Marichal: Les pasteurs de Neufch&tel, 
attaches encore a l'andenne doctrine, on roulant settlement le parattre, oserent 
declarer an roi de Prusse, suivant le style ordinaire, que leur conscience ne Uur per- 
nuttait pas de souffrir l'hlrltique Petit-Pierre au milieu d'eux, malgre* la protection 
dont ce grand prince l'honorait. Le roi rlpondit que puisqu*Us avaient si fort a 
cctur dttre damnis iUrnellement, il y donnait volontiers les mains, et trouvait tris- 
ben que U diabU ne fen/ttfaute" 

See Gesprache Friedrichs des Grossen mii H. de Catt und dent Marchese Lucche* 
sini % herausgegeben von Dr. Fritz Bischoff ; Leipzig, 1885. 



BYRON: THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT 311 

to lie in ambush for the hours of sickness and distress. 
Cain was conceived many years ago, and begun before I saw 
him last year at Ravenna. How happy should I not be to 
attribute to myself, however indirectly, any participation in 
that immortal work ! " 

Thus we see that Byron, the private individual, had by 
no means arrived at any definite conclusions on the great 
subjects which engage the mind of man. And we are con- 
sequently all the more impressed by the manner in which, 
in his poetry, his genius takes possession of him, 1 and makes 
him great and victorious in his argument, directing his aim 
with absolute certainty to the vital points. In European 
literature, which in 1821 lay stifling in the clutches of ortho- 
doxy, there was a perfect revolution when Cain appeared, 
like a herald of revolt ; the only comparison possible is with 
the impression produced in the scientific world fourteen 
years later by Strauss's Life of Jesus. The great German 
poets had, in their liberal Hellenism, left the orthodox belief 
untouched. This less emancipated poet was confined in the 
cage of dogma, but was uneasily pacing round and round in 
it like an imprisoned wild animal, shaking at its bars. 

Cain is not written with the haste of inspiration — is not 
a work that storms and thunders. In it Byron has succeeded 
in accomplishing what for passionate natures is the most diffi- 
cult of all tasks — the accomplishment of which is, indeed, the 
supreme triumph of morality — he has canalised his passion, 
that is to say, caused its wild currents to fertilise. The play 
is a product of reflection — of the thought that burrows and 
mines, the acuteness that splits, the reasoning power that 
shivers. Here more than anywhere else is what Goethe 
makes Byron say of himself (as Euphorion in the Second 
Part of Faust) applicable — namely, that he has a distaste for 
what is easily won, and delights only in what he takes by 
force. But the whole hammering, crushing, intellectual 
machinery, which to all appearance works under such com- 
plete control, is set in movement by an enkindled, glowing 
imagination ; and at the very centre of everything there is 
a panting, sobbing heart. Byron's faith helped him as much 
as did his scepticism. With perfect simplicity he takes the 



3 i2 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

Old Testament story as he finds it. He treats its characters, 
not as symbolic figures, but as realities ; and he does it in 
all sincerity — his scepticism attacks traditions ; it accepts 
tradition. Besides, was he not himself, both in his intellect 
and his emotions, a man of the Old Testament type ? In 
his soul resounded lamentations like those of Job when he 
was comforted and reproved by his friends, and cries for 
vengeance like those in the Psalms. The Hebrew Melodies 
prove how naturally the Jewish garment accommodated itself 
to the forms of his feeling. 

In all sincerity, then, Byron for the time being acknow- 
ledges the claims of tradition and bows the neck of his reason 
to its yoke ; but in Cain we see human reason writhing under 
this yoke, rebelling against it — tortured by its pricks and 
kicking against them. And what lends special attraction to 
the spectacle is, that the human reason in this case is a 
young, newborn one. On the true poet the rising of the 
sun makes as powerful an impression as if he were beholding 
it rise on the first day of creation ; to Byron, all doubts and 
questions were so fresh that they could be put into the mouth 
of the first questioner and doubter. The formation of the 
doubts and complaints had demanded nothing less than the 
whole long succession of the human generations who had 
sighed and groaned over the cruelty of life and the irration- 
ality of tradition. But although they are the accumulated 
woes of many thousand years — the ever increasing suffer- 
ings of thousands of generations of free human spirits in the 
torture-chambers of orthodoxy — which are here voiced by 
the first rebel, he expresses it all with as much originality 
and simplicity as if the thought-task of millions had at once 
been accomplished by the first thinking brain. This is the 
first of those contradictions in the poem which are so effective. 

The part of the drama in which all the discrepancies 
in the Jewish-Christian tradition are laid bare, and its in- 
compatibility as a whole with reason is proved — the veiled 
attack on orthodoxy, in short — possesses tolerably little 
interest for us nowadays ; the human race has progressed so 
far since 1821 that all the subtlety displayed in refuting the 
theology of the Book of Genesis affects us much in the same 



BYRON: THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT 313 

manner as a disputation on the belief in werewolves. Nor 
are these attacks intended to be taken literally ; Byron had, 
of course, no intention of writing blasphemously, of scoffing 
at a being whom he himself regarded as the supreme, the 
all-embracing being. What Cain combats is in reality only 
the belief that the order of nature is a moral order and that 
goodness, instead of being one of the aims of human life, is 
its postulate. It must be remembered that the language of 
human beings is full of words which were formed in ages 
past, and which we are obliged to use because the language 
owns no others, but the interpretation of which has changed 
many times in the course of centuries. Such words are, for 
example, soul and body, eternity, salvation, Paradise, the 
first temptation, the first curse. Byron has retained in his 
poem all the expressions of the Book of Genesis. The second 
suggestive contradiction in the drama is, therefore, the con- 
stant inward disagreement between the spirit of the poem 
and its letter. This second contradiction thoroughly arouses 
the readers who have been startled by the first. 1 

Side by side in this drama with the exposure of the 
hollowness of the general orthodox belief in God, we have a 
passionate representation of the infinite misery of human 
existence. To what underlies this, the empty, unmeaning 
name of pessimism has been given ; the true definition is, a 
profound compassion for the undeniable sufferings of 
humanity. Far deeper down in Byron's soul than wrath 
with the power which creates only to destroy, lies the feeling 
of the obligatory sympathy of all with all — sympathy with 

1 Renan writes on this subject : " Supposes meme que, pour nous philosophes, 
un autre mot nit preferable, outre que les mots abstraits n'expriment pas assez claire- 
ment la reelle existence, il y aurait un immense inconvenient a nous couper ainsi 
toutes les sources poltiques du passed et a nous slparer par notre langage des 
simples qui adorent si bien de leur maniere ; Le mot Dieu Itant en possession des 
respects de l'humanitl, ce mot ayant pour lui une longue prescription et ayant 6t6 
employe" dans les belles poesies, ce serait renverser toutes les habitudes du langage 
que de Tabandonner. Dites aux simples de vivre d'aspiration a la vlritl, a la 
beautl, a la bonte" morale, ces mots n'auront pour eux aucun sens. Dites-leur 
d'aimer Dieu, de ne pas offenser Dieu, ils vous comprendront a merveille. Dieu, 
Providence, immortality, autant de bons vieux mots, un peu lourds peut-6tre, que la 
philosophic interprltera dans les sens de plus en plus raffines, mais qu'elle ne rem- 
placera jamais avec avantage. — A/udes dHistoire religituu y p. 418. 



/ 



314 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

all the suffering which it is impossible to relieve, but equally 
impossible not to be conscious of. Cain is a tragedy dealing 
with the source of all tragedy — the fact that man is born, 
suffers, sins, and dies. 

Byron revolves in his mind the Bible legend : Adam has 
been tamed ; Eve has been cowed ; Abel is a gentle, sub- 
missive boy ; Cain is young humanity — pondering, question- 
ing, desiring, demanding. He is to take part in the general 
thanksgiving. Praise and give thanks for what ? For life ? 
Am I not to die ? For life ? Did I ask to live ? Am I 
still in the garden of Eden ? Why should I suffer ? For 
Adam's transgression ? 

u What had / done in this ? — I was unborn : 
I sought not to be born ; nor love the state 
To which that birth has brought me. Why did he 
Yield to the serpent and the woman ? or, 
Yielding, why suffer ? What was there in this ? 
The tree was planted, and why not for him ? 
If not, why place him near it, where it grew, 
The fairest in the centre ? They have but 
One answer to all questions : ( 'Twas his will, 
And he is good. 1 How know I that ? Because 
He is all-powerful, must all-good, too, follow ? n 

Goodness would not create evil, and what hath He 
created but evil ? And even supposing evil leads to good ? — 
why not create good at once ? He has u multiplied himself 
in misery," and yet He is happy. Who could be happy 
alone, happy in being the only happy one? And that is 
what He is — the " indefinite, indissoluble tyrant." 

We are nothing in His sight. " Well," says Cain, " if I 
am nothing, for nothing shall I be an hypocrite, and seem 
well-pleased with pain ? " War of all with all, and death for 
all, and disease for nearly all, and suffering, and bitterness ; 
these were the fruits of the forbidden tree. Is not man's 
lot a miserable one ? One good gift the fatal apple has 
given — reason. But who could be proud of a mind which 
is chained to an enslaving body, "to the most gross and 
petty paltry wants, all foul and fulsome, the very best of its 
enjoyments a sweet degradation, a most enervating and filthy 



BYRON: THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT 315 

cheat I " Not Paradise, but death, is our inheritance on 
this wretched little earth, the abode of beings « whose en- 
joyment was to be in blindness — a Paradise of Ignorance, 
from which knowledge was barred as poison." And oh ! 
the thought that all this misery is to be propagated and 
inherited ! — to see the first tears shed and shudderingly 
anticipate the oceans that will flow ! Would it not be better 
to snatch the infant in his sleep and dash him against the 
rocks, and thus choke the spring of misery at its source? 
Were it not infinitely better that the child had never been 
born ? How dare any one bring children into such a world ? 
And this is the existence for which I am to offer thanks and 
praise ! 

Such is Cain's mood at the moment when he is com- 
pelled to offer sacrifice ; and it is largely due to the sugges- 
tions of Lucifer. For Lucifer prefers torment to "the 
smooth agonies of adulation, in hymns and harpings, and 
self-seeking prayers." This Lucifer is no devil. He says 
himself : 

" Who covets evil 

For its own bitter sake ? — None— nothing ! 'tis 

The leaven of all life, and lifelessness." 

Nor is he a Mephistopheles. Except for one faint jest, 
he is severely earnest. No ! this Lucifer is really the bringer 
of light, the genius of science, the proud and defiant spirit 
of criticism, the best friend of man, overthrown because he 
would not cringe or lie, but inflexible, because, like his 
enemy, he is eternal. He is the spirit of freedom. But it 
is significant that what he represents is not the frank, open, 
struggle for liberty, but the feeling which inspires gloomy 
conspirators, who seek their aim by forbidden ways — the 
feeling which prevailed among the despairing young friends 
of liberty in Europe in the year 182 1. 

In his work, Justice in the Revolution and the Church, 
Proudhon, addressing the Archbishop of Besan9on, exclaims : 
"Liberty is your Antichrist. Come, then, O Satan! thou 
maligned of priests and kings, let me embrace thee, let me 
clasp thee to my heart 1 Thy works, thou blessed one, are 
not always fair and good, but they alone give meaning to 



316 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

the universe. What would justice be without thee ? An 
instinct. Reason ? A habit. Man ? An animal." Satan, 
thus understood, is simply the spirit of free criticism ; and if 
Byron's poetry had been named "Satanic" after him, it 
might have borne the name without shame. 

With the assistance of Lucifer, part of the action of Cain 
takes place in the region of the supernatural ; for that spirit 
conveys his pupil through the abyss of space, shows him all 
the worlds with their inhabitants, the realms of death, and, 
through the mist of the future, the generations yet unborn. 
He demands from Cain neither blind faith nor blind sub- 
mission. He does not say : " Believe — and sink not ! 
doubt — and perish ! " He does not make belief in him the 
condition of Cain's salvation ; he requires neither homage 
nor gratitude ; he opens Cain's eyes. 

Cain returns to earth ; and the first rebel leaves the first 
murderer alone, a prey to his consuming doubt. Sacrifices 
are to be offered, and he has to choose an altar. What are 
altars to him ? So much turf and stone. Abhorring suffer- 
ing, he will not slaughter innocent animals in honour of a 
bloodthirsty God ; on his altar he lays the fruits of the 
earth. 1 Abel prays in correctly pious fashion. Cain, too, 
must pray. What shall he say ? 

" If thou must be induced with altars 
And softened with a sacrifice, receive them ! 



If thou lov*st blood, the shepherd's shrine, which smokes 
On my right hand, hath shed it for thy service ; 

If a shrine without victim, 

An altar without gore, may win thy favour, 

Look on it ! and for him who dresseth it, 

He is— such as thou mad'st him ; and seeks nothing 

Which must be won by kneeling." 

Fire comes down from heaven and consumes Abel's 
sacrifice, the flames greedily licking up the blood on the 
altar. But a whirlwind throws down Cain's altar and 
scatters the fruits upon the earth. Did God, then, rejoice 
in the pain of the bleating mothers when their lambs were 

1 Here the influence of Shelley is apparent. 



BYRON: THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT 317 

taken from them to be slaughtered ? and in " the pangs of 
the sad ignorant victims under the pious knife " ? Cain's 
blood boils ; he begins to demolish the offending altar. 
Abel opposes him. " Beware ! " cries Cain ; u thy God loves 
blood!" And, driven by his wrath, his misery, his fate, 
into the snare spread for him by the Lord, he commits the 
first murder, without knowing what it means to kill, and 
thus himself brings death to his kind — death, the very name 
of which, when the future of humanity was revealed to him, 
had filled him with horror. The deed is repented of before 
it is done ; for Cain, who loves all men, is tenderly attached 
to Abel. There follow, nevertheless, the curse, the sentence, 
the banishment, and the mark of Caia 

This mark of Cain is the mark of humanity — the sign of 
suffering and immortality. Byron's drama represents the 
struggle between suffering, searching, striving humanity and 
that God of hosts, of lightnings, and of storms, whose^ 
weakened arms are forced to let go a world which is writhing 
itself free from his embrace. To exterminate this world 
which denies him, he causes rivers of blood to flow, and 
hundreds of martyr fires to be kindled by his priests ; but 
Cain rises unscathed from the ashes of the fire, and flagellates 
the priests with undying scorn. Cain is thinking humanity, 
which with its thought cleaves the old "firmament of heaven," 
and beholds millions of spheres rolling in freedom, high 
above Jehovah's rattling thunder-chariot. Cain is working 
humanity, which is striving in the sweat of its brow to pro- 
duce a new and better Eden — not the Eden of ignorance, 
but an Eden of knowledge and harmony ; a humanity which, 
long after Jehovah has been sewn into His shroud, will be 
alive, pressing to its breast Abel, who has been restored from 
the dead. 1 

Cain was dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, who gave it as 
his opinion that Byron's Muse had never before taken so 
lofty a flight, and who answered in advance the attacks that 
were likely to be made on the author. But this did not 
prevent the appearance of the work being regarded and 
lamented as a positive national calamity. Before it went to 

1 Compare Leconte de Lisle : Pohncs barbares, Kain, 



3i 8 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

press, Murray was anxious that Byron should make some 
alterations. But Byron wrote: "The two passages cannot 
be altered without making Lucifer talk like the Bishop of 
Lincoln, which would not be in the character of the former/' 
Immediately after publication the play was pirated, and Mur- 
ray applied to Lord Eldon for an injunction to protect his 
property in the work. The Lord Chancellor refused it in 
terms which may be epitomised thus : " This court, like the 
other courts of justice in this country, acknowledges Chris- 
tianity as part of the law of the land. Its jurisdiction in 
protecting literary property is founded on this. The publica- 
tion in question being intended to bring into discredit that 
portion of Scripture history to which it relates, no damages 
can be recovered in respect of a piracy of it." Thus Cain — 
like Southey's Wat Tyler — was regarded as such a criminal 
work that the law refused even to vindicate the right of 
property in it. 

Meanwhile, Moore was writing to Byron: "Cain is wonder- 
ful, terrible, never to be forgotten. If I am not mistaken, it 
will sink deep into the world's heart." History has endorsed 
this verdict. 



XXI 
COMIC AND TRAGIC REALISM 

When, in the autumn of 1816, Switzerland began to be 
overrun by crowds of English tourists, residence there be- 
came intolerable to Lord Byron, and he betook himself with 
Mr. Hobhouse, the travelling companion of his youth, to 
Italy. At Milan he met Beyle, one of the most acute of 
observers; and it is a strong proof of the extraordinary 
impression produced by the poet's personality, that he capti- 
vated even this man, who was always on his guard against 
being led into hasty enthusiasms, and who quickly detected 
what was assumed in Byron's manner. Beyle writes : " Ce 
fut pendant l'automne de 181 6, que je le rencontrai au theatre 
de la Scalcij k Milan, dans la loge de M. Louis de Breme. 
Je fus frapp6 des yeux de Lord Byron au moment ou il 
6coutait un sestetto d'un op6ra de Mayer intitul6 Elena. 
Je n'ai vu de ma vie rien de plus beau ni de plus expressif. 
Encore aujourd'hui, si je viens k penser k l'expression qu'un 
grand peintre devrait donner au g£nie, cette t&te sublime 
reparatt tout-i-coup devant moi. J'eus un instant d'enthou- 
siasme. . . . Je n'oublierai jamais l'expression divine de 
ses traits ; c'6tait l'air serein de la puissance et du 
g6nie." 

From Milan Byron proceeded to Venice, the city which 
he preferred to all others, and which he has celebrated in 
the Fourth Canto of Childe Harold, in Marino Faliero, in The 
Two Foscari, in the Ode to Venice, and in Beppo, which last work 
was written in Venice. Never had he been overcome by 
such deep depression as now ; never had forgetfulness been 
so desirable. The enchanting climate and air of Italy acted 
on him like a charm. He was twenty-nine. With its 

3»9 



320 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

beautiful women, its loose morals, and all its southern man- 
ners and customs, Venice invited to a wild revel of the 
senses. An ardent longing for happiness and enjoyment 
was part of Byron's nature ; and it is also to be remembered 
that his defiant temper had been thoroughly roused. He 
had been stigmatised as capable of every enormity ; he 
might just as well, for once, give his countrymen abroad 
something real to write home about, and the old women at 
home real cause to swoon ; they wrote and they swooned 
whatever his behaviour was. 

His first proceedings in Venice were to engage a gondola 
and gondolier, a box at the theatre, and a mistress. The last 
was easily found. He had taken apartments in the house of a 
merchant, whose wife, Marianna Segati, then aged twenty-two, 
he describes as having large, black, Oriental eyes and being in 
" appearance altogether like an antelope." She and Byron 
became so enamoured of each other, that Byron allowed Hob- 
house to go on alone to Rome. " I should have gone too," 
he writes, "but I fell in love, and must stay that over." The 
young beauty compelled him to join, in her company, in all 
the distractions of the Carnival. He devoted his nights, like 
the born Venetian, to pleasure ; but in his fear of becoming 
stout, he adhered to his usual extremely sparing diet, ate 
only vegetables and fruit, and was obliged to drink large 
quantities of his favourite beverage, rum and water, to keep 
up his strength. For he was completing Manfred at this 
time. We receive a sad impression of the aimlessness of his 
life when we read that, to counterbalance all the distractions, 
to give his days a centre of gravity, he spent several hours 
of each at the Armenian monastery of San Lazaro, learning 
Armenian from the monks. The mornings were devoted to 
this, the afternoons to physical exercise, chiefly riding. He 
had his horses brought to Venice, and with Shelley and 
other friends used to cross over to the Lido and ride 
there. 

We have a reminiscence of the talk during these rides 
in Shelley's Julian and Maddalo. At sunset he and Byron see 
on one of the islands a dreary, windowless pile, rising in 
dark relief against the flaming sky behind it. They hear, 



COMIC AND TRAGIC REALISM 321 

clanging from the open tower on the top of the house, the 
iron tongue of a bell. Said Byron : — 

" What we behold 
Shall be the madhouse and its belfry tower, 

and ever at this hour 

Those who may cross the water, hear that bell 
Which calls the maniacs, each one from his cell 

To vespers 

And like that black and dreary bell, the soul 
Hung in a heaven-illumined tower, must toll 
Our thoughts and our desires to meet below 
Round the rent heart and pray — as madmen do 
For what — they know not" 

No better image of Byron's own life at this period could 
be desired. Most assuredly at this time his longings and 
desires were like maniacs, all gathered together only once a 
day by the bell of the madhouse. 

It was with difficulty, after being ill with a sharp fever, 
contracted in the unhealthy air of Venice, that he tore him- 
self away from Marianna Segati long enough to pay a short 
visit to Ferrara and Rome. After his return, however, his 
volent passion for her subsided, as he began to discover that 
she sold the jewellery he gave her, and made as much profit 
generally £k she could, out of her position as his mistress. 
During the first part of his stay in Venice, Byron had mixed 
much in the refined society which had its chief meeting-place 
at the house of the cultivated, literary Countess Albrizzi ; now 
he withdrew himself entirely from its restraining influence. 
He rented for himself and his menagerie a magnificent palace 
on the Grand Canal. This palace soon became a harem, in 
which the favourite sultana was a beautiful young woman of 
the lower orders, Margarita Cogni, who, from the circumstance 
of her husband being a baker, was called Byron's Fornaiina. 
Her face was of " the fine Venetian cast of the old time " ; 
her figure, though she was perhaps rather tall, was also fine, 
and exactly suited the national dress. She had all the naivetg 
and droll humour of the Venetian lower classes, and as she 
could neither read nor write, she could not plague Byron 
with letters. She was jealous ; she snatched off the masks of 

vol. iv. x 



322 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

ladies whom she found in Byron's company, and she sought 
his presence whenever it suited her, with no great regard to 
time, place, or persons. He writes : " When I first knew 

her, I was in ' relazione ' with la Signora , who was silly 

enough one evening at Dolo, accompanied by some of her 
female friends, to threaten her. . . . Margarita threw back 
her veil (fazziolo), and replied in very explicit Venetian, * You 
are not his wife. I am not his wife : you are his Donna, and 
/ am his Donna : your husband is a becco, and mine is an- 
other. For the rest, what right have you to reproach me ? 
If he prefers me to you, is it my fault ? ' Having delivered 
this pretty piece of eloquence, she went on her way, leaving 

a numerous audience with Madame to ponder at her 

leisure on the dialogue between them." In time Margarita 
established herself as housekeeper in Byron's house, reduced 
the expenses of the establishment to less than half, marched 
about in a gown with a train, and wore a hat with feathers 
(articles of dress which had been the height of her ambition), 
beat the maids, opened Byron's letters, and actually studied 
her alphabet in order to be able to detect which of them 
were from ladies. In her wild way she loved him ; her joy 
at seeing him return safe from a sail in which his boat had 
been caught in a storm, was that of a tigress over her re- 
turned cubs. Her ungovernableness increased to such an 
extent that Byron was obliged to tell her that she must 
return home. After trying to attack him with a knife, she 
threw herself in her anger and despair into the canal. She 
was rescued and sent home, and Byron wrote her story at 
full length to Murray ; he knew that his letters to his pub- 
lisher were passed from hand to hand like public documents; 
and half the pleasure of his excesses consisted in the certainty 
of their creating a scandal in England. 

From the letter just quoted it is easy to see that the 
dissolute Venetian life did not absorb him heart and soul ; 
he quite saw the comic side of it all. And it was actually of 
service in furthering his development as a thinker and a poet. 
His friends at home were in despair at the way in which he 
was compromising his dignity and his reputation ; but this 
wild, jovial, Carnival life, lived amongst the women of the 



COMIC AND TRAGIC REALISM 323 

people under the bright Italian skies, was producing a new, 
realistic style in his poetry. In the works of his youth he 
had, sadly, and with a heart wrung with anguish, described 
the ebb-tide of life ; in Beppo the spring-tide suddenly began 
to rise. Beppo was real life, in a setting of laughter and jest. 
In Byron's youthful pathos there had been a certain mono- 
tony, along with a good deal of artificiality. In this work his 
genius, as it were, sloughed its skin ; the monotony was 
broken by a constant change of theme and key, the artifici- 
ality was dispelled by hearty laughter. In his youthful satire 
there had been a good deal of snappishness and a decided 
lack of grace and humour. Now that his own life had for a 
short time assumed the character of a Carnival play, the Graces, 
of their own accord, came tripping and twining through his 
verses, keeping time to the tinkling of the bells of humour. 

Beppo is the " Carnival of Venice " itself — that old theme 
which Byron, like another Paganini, found upon his way, 
lifted on the point of his divine bow, and proceeded to adorn 
with a multitude of daring and ingenious variations, with 
a luxurious embroidery of pearls and golden arabesques. 
There had come into his hands an English comic poem on 
the subject of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round 
Table, in which the Honourable John Hookham Frere had 
imitated the first poem written in the ottava ritna (Berni's 
paraphrase of Orlando Furioso). The reading of Frere's 
work aroused in Byron the desire to attempt something 
in the same style, and the result was Beppo, the complete 
originality of which effaced every recollection of a model. 
Now he had found the form which suited his purpose, the 
weapon which he could wield with the most effect — the ottava 
ritna, with its sextett of alternate rhymes, to the solid mass 
of which the concluding rhymed couplet adds now a jest, 
now a key, now a stylistic antic, now a stinging wit-dart. 

And what is the poem about ? About just as little as 
Alfred de Mussefs Namouna, or Paludan-Muller's Danserinden, 
which were written in much the same style sixteen years later 
(1833). The story in itself is nothing: A Venetian goes 
to sea, and stays so long away that his wife makes sure he is 
dead. She has long been as good as married to another 



324 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

man, when he suddenly turns up again. He has been sold 
as a Turkish slave, and, on his return, dressed as a Turk, he 
finds his wife at a masked ball, on the arm of the Count who 
has now for several years filled his place. When the couple, 
returning from the ball, step out of their gondola, they find 
the husband standing at the door of his own house. As 
soon as all three have recovered a little from the first sur- 
prise, they call for three cups of coffee, and conversation 
begins in the following style, Laura speaking : 

" Beppo ! what's your pagan name ? 
Bless me ! your beard is of amazing growth I 
And how came you to keep away so long ? 
Are you not sensible 'twas very wrong ? 

" And are you really, truly, now a Turk ? 

With any other women did you wive ? 
Iaft true they use their fingers for a fork ? 

Well, that's the prettiest shawl 1— as I'm alive I 
You'll give it me 1 They say you eat no pork," &c &c. 

This is all the explanation the husband receives, or asks. 
As he cannot go about dressed as a Turk, he borrows a pair 
of trousers from Laura's cavaliere servente, the Count, and the 
story ends in perfect amicability on all sides. In itself it is 
of little importance, but it was Byron's study for his master- 
piece, Don Juan — the only one of his works which, as it were, 
contains the whole wide ocean of life, with its storms and 
its sunshine, its ebb and its flood. 

Byron's friends tried every means in their power to 
induce him to return to England, in the hope of thereby 
reclaiming him from the life he was leading. But instead 
of returning he sold Newstead Abbey, which in his youth he 
had vowed he would never part with (receiving £94,000 for 
it). Indeed, so strong was his antipathy to the thought of 
return, that he could not even bear the idea of being taken 
back as a corpse. " I trust," he writes, u they won't think 
of ' pickling, and bringing me home to Clod or Blunderbuss 
Hall.' I am sure my bones would not rest in an English 
grave, or my clay mix with the earth of that country. I 
believe the thought would drive me mad on my deathbed, 



COMIC AND TRAGIC REALISM 325 

could 1 suppose that any of my friends would be base 
enough to convey my carcass back to your soil. I would 
not even feed your worms, if I could help it." 

But now occurred an event which in an unforeseen 
manner put an end to the polygamy in which Byron was 
living in Venice — an event that constituted a turning-point 
in his life. In April 18 19, he was presented to Countess 
Teresa Guiccioli, daughter of Count Gamba of Ravenna, a 
lady who was at this time only sixteen, and had just been 
married to Count Guiccioli, a man of sixty, who had been 
twice left a widower. The introduction took place against 
the inclination of both ; the young Countess was tired that 
evening and longed to go home, and Byron was unwilling to 
make new acquaintances ; both assented only from the desire 
to oblige their hostess. But no sooner had they entered 
into conversation than a spark, which was never extinguished, 
passed from soul to soul. The Countess afterwards wrote : — 
" His noble and exquisitely beautiful countenance, the tone 
of his voice, his manners, the thousand enchantments that 
surrounded him, rendered him so different and so superior 
a being to any whom I had hitherto seen, that it was im- 
possible he should not have left the most profound impres- 
sion upon me. From that evening, during the whole of my 
subsequent stay at Venice, we met every day." 

A few weeks later, Teresa was obliged to return with her 
husband to Ravenna. The parting with Byron agitated her 
so terribly that during the course of the first day's journey 
she fainted several times ; and she became so ill that she 
arrived at Ravenna half dead. She was also much distressed 
at this time by the loss of her mother. The Count owned 
several houses on the road from Venice to Ravenna, and it 
was his habit to stop at these mansions, one after the other, 
on his journeys between the two cities. From each the 
enamoured young Countess now wrote to Byron, expressing 
in the most passionate and pathetic terms her despair at 
leaving him, and entreating him to come to Ravenna. Very 
touching is the description which she gives, after her arrival, 
of the complete change in all her feelings. She, who formerly 
had thought of nothing but balls and ffttes, has, she says, 



326 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

been so entirely changed by her love that solitude has become 
dear and welcome to her. She will, according to Byron's 
wish, " avoid all general society, and devote herself to read- 
ing, music, domestic occupations, riding" — everything, in 
short, that she knew he would most like. Longing and 
grief brought on a dangerous fever, and symptoms of con- 
sumption showed themselves. Then Byron set out for 
Ravenna. He found the Countess in bed, apparently in 
a very serious condition. He writes : " I greatly fear that 
she is going into a consumption. . . . Thus it is with every 
thing and every body for whom I feel anything like a real 
attachment. ... If anything happens to my present Arnica, 
I have done with the passion for ever — it is my last love. 
As to libertinism, I have sickened myself of that, as was 
natural in the way I went on, and I have at least derived 
that advantage from vice, to hue in the better sense of the 
word." The attitude assumed towards the young foreigner 
by the Count astonished every one ; he showed him all 
manner of polite attentions ; used to come for him every day 
with a " coach and six," and drive about the country with 
him, like u Whittington with his cat," Byron declared. 

It was a happy time for Byron. This, his one perfect 
and fully returned attachment, brought back all the emotions 
of his youth. The beautiful Stanzas to the Po, which reveal 
deep, chivalrous feeling, and end with the prayer, " Let me 
perish young ! " were the first-fruits of the new passion. He 
loved truly and with his whole heart, and loved like a youth, 
without at any point taking up a position outside of his feel- 
ing or attempting to rise superior to it. When, in August, 
the Countess was obliged to accompany her husband on his 
visits to his other estate, Byron went daily to her house, 
and, causing her apartments to be opened, sat turning over 
her books and writing in them. On the last page of a copy 
of Corinne he wrote the following note : — 

My dearest Teresa — I have read this book in your 
garden ; — my love, you were absent, or else I could not have 
read it. It is a favourite book of yours, and the writer was 
a friend of mine. You will not understand these English 



COMIC AND TRAGIC REALISM 327 

words, and others will not understand them — which is the 
reason I have not scrawled them in Italian. But you will 
recognise the handwriting of him who so passionately loved 
you, and you will divine that, over a book which was yours, 
he could only think of love. In that word, beautiful in all 
languages, but most so in yours — Amor mia—\s comprised 
my existence here and hereafter. . . . Think of me, some- 
times, when the Alps and the ocean divide us, — but they 
never will, unless you wish it. Byron. 

Bologna, August 25, 1819. 

It is needless to compare the expressions in this note 
with those of the farewell letter to Lady Caroline Lamb ; 
one feels at once that this is the language of a truer love. 

When, in September, Count Guiccioli was called away 
by business to Ravenna, he left the young Countess and her 
lover to the free enjoyment of each other's society at Bologna ; 
and he was quite agreeable, when the physicians ordered 
her to Venice, that Lord Byron should be the companion of 
her journey. Byron had a villa at La Mira, near Venice ; 
he placed it at her disposal, and resided there with her. Of 
the journey and the ensuing period she wrote to Moore after 
Byron's death : " But I cannot linger over these recollections 
of happiness ; — the contrast with the present is too dreadful. 
If a blessed spirit, while in the full enjoyment of heavenly 
happiness, were sent down to this earth to suffer all its 
miseries, the contrast could not be more dreadful between 
the past and the present, than what I have endured from 
the moment when that terrible word reached my ears, and 
I for ever lost the hope of again beholding him, one look 
from whom I valued beyond all earth's happiness." 

The woman to whom the world owes a debt of gratitude 
for having saved Byron from ruining himself by degrading 
dissipation, lost her standing in the eyes of Italian society 
from the moment when she took up her residence in her 
lover's house. The Italian moral code of that day — of which 
De Stendhal's Italian tales give an excellent idea — permitted 
a young married woman to have a friend (Amico) ; and, 
indeed, regarded him practically as her husband, but only 



328 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

on the condition that those outward conventions were re- 
spected, which Countess Guiccioli was now disregarding. 

It was not light-mindedness that led her to expose her- 
self to the censure of public opinion. She saw her own 
relation to Lord Byron in a poetic light ; she regarded it as 
her mission to free a noble and gifted poet from the fetters 
of ignoble connections, and to restore his faith in pure and 
self-sacrificing love. She hoped to act on him as a Muse. 
She was very young, and very beautiful — fair, with dark 
eyes ; small, but beautifully proportioned. West, the 
American painter, to whom Byron sat for his portrait 
at the Villa Rossa, near Pisa, gives the following description 
of her: — "Whilst I was painting, the window from which I 
received my light became suddenly darkened, and I heard 
a voice exclaim : ' E troppo bello / ' I turned, and discovered 
a beautiful female stooping down to look in, the ground on 
the outside being on a level with the bottom of the window. 
Her long golden hair hung down about her face and 
shoulders, her complexion was exquisite, and her smile 
completed one of the most romantic-looking heads, set 
off as it was by the bright sun behind it, which I had ever 
beheld." The more important it became to the Countess not 
to be regarded simply as one of Byron's many mistresses, the 
more did she endeavour to raise his poetry into a higher and 
purer atmosphere than that in which it moved at this time. 

One evening when he was sitting turning over the 
leaves of the manuscript of Don Juan, two cantos of 
which had been completed before his acquaintance with 
the Countess began, she leant over his shoulder, pointed 
to a verse on the page he was just turning, and asked 
him what it meant. " She had stumbled," writes Byron, 
"by mere chance on the 137th stanza of the First Canto. 
I told her ' Nothing ; but your husband is coming/ As I 
said this in Italian with some emphasis, she started up in 
a fright, and said, ' Oh, my God, is he coming ? ' thinking 
it was her own." But this accident aroused her curiosity 
regarding Don Juan ; she read the two cantos in a French 
translation ; her delicacy was shocked by the indecency of 
much of the contents, and she implored Byron not to go on 



COMIC AND TRAGIC REALISM 329 

with the poem. He at once promised what his Didatrice 
demanded. This was Countess Guiccioli's first direct in- 
fluence upon Byron's work — and it was certainly not a 
beneficial one ; but she soon withdrew her prohibition, on 
the condition, however, that there should be no obscenity 
in the part as yet unwritten. A whole series of fine works 
which now proceeded from Byron's pen are the beautiful 
and enduring mementos of his life with her. The manner 
in which in Don Juan he tore the veil from all illusions, and 
mercilessly mocked at sentimentality, wounded the Countess's 
womanly feelings ; for woman is, ever unwilling that the 
illusions which, as long as they last beautify life, should be 
rudely dispelled. 

Countess Guiccioli, thus, did her utmost to prevent 
Byron writing works calculated to destroy belief in human 
nature and the value of life. The themes which she, the 
romantic lover of the grand, and the ardent Italian patriot, 
led him to choose, were themes calculated to elevate her 
countrymen's minds and quicken their desire for the eman- 
cipation of their country from a foreign yoke. It was to 
gratify her that he wrote The Prophecy of Dante, and translated 
from the Inferno the famous episode of Francesco of Rimini; 
and it was under her influence that he wrote the Venetian 
dramas, Marino Faliero and The Two Foscari, plays which, 
though they are written in English, really belong, from their 
style and subject, rather to Romance than to English litera- 
ture — just as they belong, as a matter of fact, to the Italian, 
not the English, stage. They are plays with a passionate 
political purpose, written in careless, and occasionally ill- 
sounding iambics. Their aim was, by the employment of 
the strongest means possible, to excite the lethargic Italian 
patriots to unanimous revolt against the oppressors. They 
are scenically effective. Whilst under the first impression of 
his attachment to the Countess, Byron also wrote Mazeppa, 
the heroine of which bears her name ; and her personality 
was directly transferred to the two best and most beautiful 
female characters which he created at this period — Adah in 
Cain, and Myrrha in Sardanapalus. 

In Countess Guiccioli Byron found the realisation of the 



330 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

ideal of femininity which had always been before his eyes, 
but which in his earlier narrative poems he had not succeeded 
in portraying naturally. He himself naively confessed to 
Lady Blessington the difficulty in which he found himself, 
and the manner in which he personified his ideals. " I 
detest thin women," he said ; " and unfortunately all, or 
nearly all plump women have clumsy hands and feet, so 
that I am obliged to have recourse to imagination for my 
beauties, and there I always find them. I flatter myself that 
my Leila, Zuleika, Gulnare, Medora, and Haid6e will always 
vouch for my taste in beauty ; these are the bright creations 
of my fancy, with rounded forms, and delicacy of limbs, 
nearly so incompatible as to be rarely, if ever, united. . . . 
You must have observed that I give my heroines extreme 
refinement, joined to great simplicity and want of education. 
Now, refinement and want of education are incompatible, 
at least, I have ever found them so : so here again, you see, 

I am forced to have recourse to imagination/' The concoc- 
tions were as impossible as they were beautiful ; these fair 
ones produced next to no impression of reality, herein 
resembling the heroes whom they worshipped. 

From The Giaour to The Siege of Corinth, Byron's narra- 
tive poems are of the Romantic type, but bear the imprint 
of a strong individuality. Passion is idolised in both sexes. 
The heroes are, to borrow an expression from The Giaour, 

II wracks, by passion left behind " ; but " wracks " which 
choose rather to continue being tossed by its tempests than 
to live in drowsy tranquillity. They do not love with the 
cold love begotten of a cold climate ; theirs " is like a lava 
flood." The most characteristic of these now extremely 
antiquated Byronic heroes is the noble Corsair — who is 
proud, capricious, scornful, revengeful to the point of cruelty, 
a prey to remorse, and so nobly magnanimous that he will 
rather submit to the most barbarous tortures than kill a 
sleeping enemy. This interesting bandit, with his mysterious 
countenance, his theatrical deportment, and his boundless 
chivalry towards woman, is the Byronic counterpart of 
Schiller's Karl Moor. The sovereign of a law-abiding 
people, hampered by the conventions of a court, could 



COMIC AND TRAGIC REALISM 331 

not be Byron's ideal man ; there was no possibility in such 
a life of romantic exploits, of perils by land or by water. 
So he took a pirate chieftain, and, to the qualities induced 
by such a man's manner of life, superadded the finest 
qualities of his own soul. The Corsair, who is accustomed 
to wade in blood, turns with a shudder from the young 
Sultana who loves him, when he sees the little spot of blood 
on her forehead — not because it is imaginable that a Conrad 
would have shuddered at so little, but because Byron himself 
would have shrunk from such a sight. It has been cleverly 
said that the real reason of the marvellous attraction of all 
the heroes and heroines of these poems of Byron's youth for 
the general public was, that they all moved where they had no 
joints. The public were not more enraptured by the passion of 
the lyric portions and by the poetical gems inserted here and 
there (almost always during the process of proof-reading), 
than by the deeds which were really impossible to human 
nature. It was admiration of the same kind as is displayed 
for the daring acrobat, who does breakneck feats by un- 
natural contortions of his body. 

But in these same characters some of the finer, deeper- 
lying qualities of Byron's ideal also revealed themselves. 
Conrad's inflexibility under suffering foreshadows Man- 
fred's ; and he will no more bow the knee than will 
Cain to Lucifer, or Don Juan to Gulbeyaz. Compassion 
for those less fortunately situated than himself, a feeling 
which never disappeared from Byron's soul, exists, though 
chiefly in the shape of hatred of despots, in Lara ; and in 
both The Giaour and The Siege of Corinth we have the long- 
ing for the emancipation of Greece. It was a strange 
ordering of destiny that the poet himself should end his life 
as a commander of just such wild men as those he had 
described. The Viking blood in his veins gave him no rest 
until he himself became a Viking leader, like the Normans 
from whom he was descended. And even if all these 
desperadoes (Alp, the renegade, who leads the Turks against 
his countrymen, no less than Lara, who makes war on his 
peers) are simply the imaginary creatures of the poet's brain, 
there is in the characters of all, one realistic trait, a trait 



332 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

which also develops in those who attach themselves to them 
— the proud endurance of terrible fates. The humour of 
Beppo is the form in which naturalness overcomes the stagi- 
ness and artificiality of Byron's earlier works. The sympathy 
with human suffering, which in his serious poetry gradually 
swallows up all other sympathies, is the form in which the 
feeling of the reality of life prevails over his Romanticism 
and supersedes it. 

This feeling gained in intensity after his breach with 
England. The Prisoner of Chilian had described the suffering 
of the noble Bonnivard, who for six long years was chained 
to a pillar in an underground dungeon by a chain too 
short to allow of his lying down, and compelled to witness 
the agonies and death of his brothers, who were fettered in 
the same manner, without being able to put out his hand to 
help them. On it followed Mazeppa — the youth bound to 
the back of the wild horse, which gallops with dripping 
mane and steaming flanks through the forests and across 
the steppes, whilst he, torn from the arms of his beloved, 
whose fate is unknown to him, and looking forward to a 
horrible fate himself, suffers agonies of thirst, pain, and 
shame. So far Byron has by preference dwelt upon the 
things that are most terrible to flesh and blood ; even when, 
as in the case of Bonnivard, there was a spiritual element in 
the suffering, and the theme presented an opportunity for 
the description of a heroic personality, he dwelt most on the 
purely physical torture. But now that his sympathies were 
aroused for the great martyrs of Italy, his conception of the 
tragic was ennobled. 

In The Prophecy of Dante he thus describes the lot of the 
poet : — 

" Many are poets, but without the name, 
For what is poesy but to create 
From overfeeling good or ill ; and aim 
At an external life beyond our fate, 

And be the new Prometheus of new men, 
Bestowing fire from heaven, and then, too late, 
Finding the pleasure given repaid with pain, 
And vultures to the heart of the bestower, 
Who, having lavish'd his high gift in vain, 
Lies chain'd to his lone rock by the sea-shore." 



COMIC AND TRAGIC REALISM 333 

And he makes the great poet, who was, like himself, unjustly 
exiled, exclaim : 

'Tis the doom 
Of spirits of my order to be rack*d 
In life, to wear their hearts out, and consume 
Their days in endless strife, and die alone." 

Of Tasso Byron had already written. Even a super- 
ficial comparison of Goethe's Tasso with Byron's Lament 
of Tasso is sufficient to show us what a resistless at- 
traction hopeless suffering had for Byron's imagination. 
Goethe takes Tasso the youth, the lover, the poet, and places 
him in the society of the beautiful women of the court of 
Ferrara, where, happy and unhappy, he is admired and 
humiliated. Byron takes Tasso alone, ruined, shut out 
from society, shut into the cell of a madhouse though he is 
quite sane, a prey to the cruelty of his former protectors : — 

" I loved all solitude— but little thought 
To spend I know not what of life, remote 
From all communion with existence, save 
The maniac and his tyrant ;— had I been 
Their fellow, many years ere this had seen 
My mind like theirs corrupted to its grave. 
But who hath seen me writhe, or heard me rave ? 
Perchance in such a cell we suffer more 
Than the wreckM sailor on his desert shore ; 
The world is all before him — mine is here y 
Scarce twice the space they must accord my bier. 
What though he perish, he may lift his eye, 
And with a dying glance upbraid the sky ; 
I will not raise my own in such reproof, 
Although 'tis clouded by my dungeon roof." 

Of the court of Ferrara, a court where Lucrezia Borgia 
has her residence, a court where the passions and the cruelty 
of* the Renaissance period flourish, Goethe makes a little 
German Weimar, where everything is ruled by the most 
refined humanitarianism of the eighteenth century ; Byron 
is magnetically attracted by what he considers the revolt- 
ing barbarity of the Duke of Ferrara, and his poem turns 
into a declamation against the injustice and tyranny of 
princes. 



334 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

We have another description of tragic suffering, along 
with still more violent accusation — both, however, decidedly 
overdone— in The Two Foscari, a tragedy in which a father 
is compelled to sentence the son he loves to the agonies 
of the torture-chamber, and in which the son, who is the 
hero of the tragedy, is stretched on the rack during almost 
the whole duration of the play, and only rises from it to 
die of grief because he is banished. In The Two Foscari, 
as in his other tragedies, Byron, as if in defiance, follows the 
French fashion of strict adherence to the Aristotelian rules. 
In his conviction that this is the one right style, he risks 
the comical paradox, that England has hitherto possessed 
no drama. 

It has created much surprise that Byron, who, like all 
the other English poets of the day, was a pronounced 
Naturalist — which means that he preferred the forest to 
the garden, the unsophisticated to the civilised human 
being, the original to the acquired language of passion — 
that this same Byron should have been such an enthusiastic 
admirer of Pope and of the small group of poets (including 
Samuel Rogers and Crabbe) who still paid homage to 
classical tradition, even to the extent of imitating the antique 
dramatic style. 

The first reason for the admiration of Pope is to be 
sought in Byron's spirit of contradiction. The fact that the 
poets of that Lake School which he despised were continu- 
ally reviling Pope, was in itself a sufficient reason for his 
exalting him to the skies, calling him the greatest of all 
English poets, and declaring that he would willingly himself 
defray the expense of erecting a monument to him in the 
Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey, from which, as a 
Catholic, he was excluded. Secondly, we have to remember 
that the traditions of Harrow never lost their influence over 
Byron ; and at Harrow Pope had always been held up 
as the model poet. A third thing to be remembered is 
Byron's own great deficiency in critical acumen, as an in- 
stance of which we may take his remark to Lady Blessington 
that Shakespeare owed half his fame to his low birth. There 
still remain the predisposing circumstances — that Pope was 



COMIC AND TRAGIC REALISM 335 

deformed, and in spite of his deformity had a beautiful 
head ; that he did not belong to the Established Church ; 
that he was the poet of good society ; and that his de- 
formity begot in him a certain satirical gloom — all things in 
which Byron sympathised with him. And, lastly, we have 
Byron's personal bias (possibly attributable to his Norman 
descent) towards rhetoric of the style peculiar to the Latin 
races. 

The circumstance that Byron championed the art theories 
of a past age, whilst he in everything else belonged to the 
party of progress, produces a certain likeness between him 
and Armand Carrel, who also remained faithful to antiquated 
classicism in literature, though he held the most emancipated 
views in politics and religion. As both of them adopted the 
standpoint of eighteenth century France in most matters 
intellectual and spiritual, it was not unnatural that they should 
also conform to it in the only domain in which it was a con- 
ventional standpoint, namely, that of belles-lettres. Certain 
it is that his theoretical caprices had a baneful influence 
on Byron's Italian dramas. These consist of monologues 
and declamation. Byron's genius and Countess Guiccioli's 
patriotism combined did not suffice to communicate to 
them more than a very meagre quantum of poetic in- 
spiration. 

But during the production of Cain and Sardanapalus the 
young Countess was what it was her desire to be, Byron's 
Muse. 

The best thing in Cain is the character of Adah. It has 
been often remarked that Byron's male characters all resemble 
one another ; what his critics have been less apt to observe 
is, how dissimilar his women are. Adah is not a female 
Cain, though she is the one imaginable wife for him. Cain's 
female counterpart is the proud, defiant Aholibamah of 
Heaven and Earth. Cain sees annihilation everywhere ; Adah 
sees growth, love, germinating power, happiness. To Cain, 
the cypress which spreads its branches above little Enoch's 
head is a tree of mourning ; all Adah sees is that it gives 
shade to the child. After Cain has despairingly made it 
plain to himself and Adah that all the world's evils and 



336 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

misfortunes are to be transmitted through Enoch, Adah 
says: 

" Oh, Cain, look on him ; see how full of life, 
Of strength, of bloom, of beauty, and of joy, 
How like to me — how like to thee, when gentle 1 " 

Out of so little is Adah made, that all her speeches put 
together would not occupy one octavo page. When Cain 
has to make his choice between love and knowledge, she 
says : ll Oh, Cain ! choose love." When Cain, having killed 
Abel, stands alone, cursed and avoided as a murderer, she 
answers his ejaculation of: u Leave me!" with the words: 
11 Why, all have left thee." And this character Byron created 
almost without departing from the letter of the Bible, simply 
by sometimes putting what is really said by one into the 
mouth of another. In Genesis, Cain, when he has been 
cursed by the Lord, says : " My punishment is greater than 
I can bear," &c. In Byron's play, Cain, when the terrible 
curse of the angel has fallen, stands mute ; but Adah lifts 
up her voice and says : 

u This punishment is more than he can bear. 
Behold, thou driv'st him from the face of earth, 
And from the face of God shall he be hid 
A fugitive and vagabond on earth, 
'Twill come to pass that whoso findeth him 
Shall slay him n — 

the exact words which the Bible puts into the mouth of 
Cain. Byron, with the eye of genius, saw in this one utter- 
ance, this Old Testament lump of clay, the outlines of a whole 
human figure ; and with nothing but the pressure of his 
hand moulded it into a statuette of the first loving woman. 

The other character in which we feel, and feel still more 
strongly, the influence of the young Countess, is Myrrha, the 
Greek female slave in Sardanapalus. Sardanapalus is the best 
of Byron's historical tragedies. — With careless contempt 
for his fellow-men and the world in general, the proud 
Sardanapalus has given himself up to voluptuous pleasures. 
Martial fame he despises ; he cares not to win a great name 
by shedding the blood of thousands of unoffending human 



COMIC AND TRAGIC REALISM 337 

beings ; and as little does he desire to be worshipped, like his 
fathers, as a god. His careless magnanimity amounts to 
imprudence. He returns to the rebel priest the sword 
which has been snatched from him, with the words : 

" Receive your sword, and know 
That I prefer your service militant 
Unto your ministry — not loving either." 

His manly vigour appears to be ebbing away in a life of 
voluptuous enjoyment, when Myrrha, the Ionian, his favourite 
slave, determines to rescue him. She implores him to rouse 
himself, and prepare to defend himself against his enemies. 
It is almost as great a grief to her that she loves him as that 
she is a slave. 

u Why do I love this man ? My country's daughters 
Love none but heroes. But I have no country ! 
The slave has lost all save her bonds. I love him ; 
And that's the heaviest link of the long chain — 

To love whom we esteem not 

And yet methinks I love him more, perceiving 
That he is hated of his own barbarians." 

But when the enemies attack the palace, and Sardanapalus, 
after rejecting the clumsy sword as hurting his hand, and 
the heavy helmet as " a mountain on his temples," plunges 
bareheaded and lightly armed into the midst of the fray and 
fights like a hero, Myrrha triumphs as if a burden of shame 
were lifted from her heart : — 

" Tis no dishonour — no— 
'Tis no dishonour to have loved this man. 



IfAlcides 

Were shamed in wearing Lydian Omphale's 
She-garb, and wielding her vile distaff, surely 
He, who springs up a Hercules at once, 
Nursed in effeminate arts from youth to manhood, 
And rushes from the banquet to the battle, 
As though it were a bed of love, deserves 
That a Greek girl should be his paramour, 
And a Greek bard his minstrel, a Greek tomb 
His monument." 
VOL. IV. 



338 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

It is as if Byron were prophesying his own fate. And was 
it not true of the poet, as of his hero, that he had known a 
thousand women, but never a true woman's heart till now ? 

" Myrrha. Then thou wouldst know what thou canst never know. 

Sardanapalus. And that is 

Myrrha. The true value of a heart ; 

At least, a woman's. 
Sardanapalus. I have proved a thousand— 

A thousand, and a thousand 
Myrrha. Hearts ? 

Sardanapalus. I think so. 

Myrrha. Not one 1 The time may come thou ma/st." 

Like Myrrha, the young Italian Countess set before her 
lover more manly aims than voluptuous enjoyment; like 
Myrrha, she rescued him from a life which was unworthy of 
his great and noble mind. 

We left the lovers at the country house of La Mira, 
near Venice, where Byron wrote, amongst other things, the 
Memoirs which he presented to Thomas Moore, to be left as 
a legacy to the latter's little son, but which were burned at 
the instigation of Byron's family, and for reasons which have 
never been satisfactorily explained. The peaceful life at La 
Mira was not of long duration. Count Guiccioli suddenly 
determined that he would put an end to the existing state 
of matters. The Countess would not give up Byron, and a 
separation from her husband was the result. With the 
consent of her family, she relinquished fortune and position 
in society ; a small yearly allowance was to be paid her ; but 
the conditions of the separation only held good as long as she 
continued to reside in her father's house. Here Byron regu- 
larly spent his evenings with her ; he loved to hear her play, 
or sing airs by Mozart or Rossini. His diary of January and 
February 1821 chiefly consists of the following regularly re- 
peated entries: "Rode — fired pistols — dined — wrote — visited 
— heard music — talked nonsense — went home — read." 

As long as Count Guiccioli was still playing the role of 
possible avenger, the situation had contained the element of 
danger and excitement which to Byron was the spice of life. 
He believed that he owed his safety from assassination in the 



COMIC AND TRAGIC REALISM 339 

course of his rides to the fact of his being known to carry 
pistols and to have an unerring aim, and from assassination 
at home to the avaricious Count's disinclination to pay the 
twenty scudi which were the hire of a first-class bravo. 
This excitement was now at an end, but there was substituted 
for it a new and nobler one. 

The whole Italian peninsula was in a state of silent 
but violent ferment. After the overthrow of Napoleon's 
rule, the old rulers " by the grace of God " had at once begun 
to conduct themselves with overweening arrogance. Every 
trace of French influence in the shape of beneficent reform 
was to be effaced, and the old abuses were to be re-intro- 
duced. The unbearable oppression during the general Euro- 
pean reaction which followed the formation of the Holy 
Alliance, drove the Italians to form a wide-spread con- 
spiracy ; great secret leagues of the Carbonari, imitated 
from those of the Freemasons, were soon in existence in all 
parts of the country. 

The Countess introduced Byron into the circle of the 
conspirators. The whole Gamba family belonged to the 
secret society. The Countess's brother, Pietro, a warm- 
hearted youth of twenty, who was an enthusiastic admirer 
of Byron and eventually accompanied him to Greece, was 
one of its most ardent and best-informed leaders. Car- 
bonarism seemed to Byron the poetry of politics. The 
wooden Parliamentary politics of his native country had 
repelled him, but this appealed strongly to his imagination. 
He was advanced to a high rank in the society, and was 
made chief of a division called the Americani. He provided 
the conspirators with supplies of weapons, and offered the 
" constitutional " government at Naples one thousand Louis- 
d'ors as his contribution to the expenses of carrying on the 
war against the Holy Alliance. His letters display positive 
fury with the Austrian tyrants. Wherever he resided, he 
was an eyesore to the Austrian authorities ; his letters were 
opened ; the Italian translation of Childe Harold was pro- 
hibited in the Austrian provinces of Italy ; and the police, 
as he well knew, were incited to assassinate him. Neverthe- 
less, he calmly took his usual ride every day. On this, as 



340 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

on other occasions, his conduct and language were dis- 
tinguished by a mixture of stoic heroism and boyish 
bravado. There is something attractively boyish in his 
writing to Murray : " I wonder if they can read my letters 
when they have opened them ; if so, they may see, in my 

MOST LEGIBLE HAND, THAT I THINK THEM DAMNED 
SCOUNDRELS AND BARBARIANS, and THEIR EMPEROR A 

fool." When proclamation was made that extremely 
severe penalties would be incurred by all in whose houses 
weapons were found, he stored the weapons of all the 
conspirators of the Romagna in his villa, which became a 
regular arsenal. The cupboards and drawers were crammed 
with the revolutionary proclamations and oath-formulas. 
He thought, and thought rightly, that the authorities would 
hardly dare to search the house of a member of the English 
House of Peers. 

It was easier for them to drive him away than to imprison 
him ; it was done simply by ordering the Counts Gamba to 
leave the country within twenty-four hours. It being one 
of the agreements of the separation that the young Countess 
was to be obliged, if she left her father's house, to enter a 
convent, the authorities felt sure that the step they were 
taking was a sure means of getting rid of Byron. Teresa's 
letter to her lover on hearing of this order ends thus : " Byron ! 
I am in despair ! — If I must leave you here without knowing 
when I shall see you again, if it is your will that I should 
suffer so cruelly, I am resolved to remain. They may put 
me in a convent ; I shall die — but — but then you cannot 
aid me, and I cannot reproach you. I know not what they 
tell me, for my agitation overwhelms me ; and why ? Not 
because I fear my present danger, but solely, I call Heaven 
to witness, solely because I must leave you." 1 

1 The long work, Lord Byron Jugi par Us Thnoins de sa Vie, which Countess 
Guiccioli published in 1868, though it does not really help us to understand either 
Byron's character or his art, bears touching evidence to the strength and depth of 
the Countess's love. The solution of the problem which the world calls Byron, is, 
for her, contained in one word : He was an angel — beautiful as an angel ; good as an 
angel ; an angel in everything. The 1 100 pages of the book are divided into chapters 
bearing the titles of his different virtues ; one is consecrated to his philanthropy, 
another to his modesty, &c &c. The chapter upon his faults proves in the most 



COMIC AND TRAGIC REALISM 341 

The fortune into possession of which Byron came through 
his marriage, and which, strange to say, he had no scruples 
in keeping ; another fortune, produced by the sale of 
Newstead ; and the £20,000 which he had in course of time 
received from Murray in payment of his poems, had placed 
him in a position to exercise benevolence on a grand scale. 
When it was reported that he intended to leave Ravenna, 
the poor of the neighbourhood sent a petition to the 
Cardinal Legate that he might be allowed to remain. But 
it was this very devotion of the people to him that made 
him dangerous to the Government. He removed from 
Ravenna to Pisa. The Tuscan Government being quite 
as much afraid of Byron and the Gambas as was the 
Government of the Papal States, there was soon another 
expulsion, and the party proceeded to Genoa, Byron's last 
place of residence in Italy. 

satisfactory manner that he had none. The description given of his person cor- 
responds to that of his character. We have separate disquisitions on the beauty of 
his voice, of his nose, of his lips. It is incomprehensible how such a shameful 
aspersion can have been spread abroad as that Lord Byron was lame or had a club- 
foot His limp was so slight that it was impossible to detect which foot caused it ; 
and his lordship's shoemaker, who still owns the last on which his boots were 
made when he lived at Newstead, bears witness (his attestation being appended) to 
the slightness of the defect. It is equally incomprehensible how the foolish report 
can have found credence, that Lord Byron's hair had begun in his later years to 
recede from his forehead ; certainly that part of his head was rather bare, but simply 
for the reason that he chose to have it shaved. Another unaccountable and foolish 
falsehood is the assertion that his legs grew very thin. Certainly they were thinner 
in the last years of his life than they had been when he was younger ; but was that 
at all remarkable in a man who spent most of his leisure hours on horseback ? — When 
we remember that this book was published forty-four years after Byron's death we 
cannot but acknowledge that the lore which inspired it was strong and lasting. 



XXII 

CULMINATION OF NATURALISM 

In the period between 1818 and 1823 Byron wrote Don 
Juan. Immediately after the first part of the manuscript 
reached England, he was inundated by communications 
from friends and critics who had been allowed to see it — 
expressions of consternation, entreaties to omit this or that, 
deprecations of the immorality of the poem. Immorality ! 
— that was the cry Byron had to hear at each step of 
his life, and which pursued him after death ; their im- 
morality was made the pretext for burning his memoirs, 
and his immorality the pretext for refusing his statue a 
place in Westminster Abbey. Byron replies in a letter to 
Murray : " If they had told me the poetry was bad, I would 
have acquiesced ; but they say the contrary, and then talk 
to me about morality — the first time I ever heard the word 
from anybody who was not a rascal that used it for a pur- 
pose. I maintain that it is the most moral of poems ; but if 
people won't discover the moral, that is their fault, not mine 
... I will have none of your damned cutting and slashing. 
If you please you may publish anonymously; it will perhaps 
be better ; but I will battle my way against them all, like a 
porcupine." 

This poem, which, with its savage dedication to Southey, 
had to be published, not only anonymously, but actually 
without any publisher's name on the title-page, and which, 
as Byron said, had more difficulty in making its way into an 
English drawing-room than a camel in passing through the 
eye of a needle, is the one poem of the nineteenth century 
which can be compared with Goethe's Faust; for it, and not 
the comparatively insignificant Man/red, is Byron's poem of 
universal humanity. Its defiant motto is the famous speech 

34* 



CULMINATION OF NATURALISM 343 

in Twelfth Night: "Dost thou think, because thou art 
virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale ? — Yes, by 
Saint Anne, and ginger shall be hot i' the mouth, too ! " 
— a motto which promises nothing but offence and satiric 
pleasantry. Nevertheless it was with justifiable and pro- 
phetic pride that Byron said to Medwin : " If you must have 
an epic, there's Don Juan for you ; it is an epic as much in 
the spirit of our day as the Iliad was in that of Homer." It 
was Byron who produced what Chateaubriand imagined he 
had produced in Les Martyrs, namely, the modern epic poem 
— which it was not possible to construct, as Chateaubriand 
had attempted to do, on a Christian-Romantic basis, or as 
Scott had thought it might be done, on the foundation of 
national history and manners. Byron succeeded because he y 
took as his foundation nothing less than the most advanced 
civilisation of the century. 

Juan is no Romantic hero ; neither his mind nor his 
character raises him much above the average ; but he is a ^ 
favourite of fortune, an exceptionally handsome, proud, 
bold, lucky man, who is led more by his destiny than by 
intention or plan — the proper hero for a poem which is to 
embrace the whole of human life. It would never have 
done for him to have any special province ; for, from the 
very beginning, there was no limit set to the scope and reach 
of the work. 

The poem rises and falls like a ship borne upon sunlit 
and storm-tossed billows ; it passes from one extreme to 
another. On the ardent love-scenes between Juan and Julia 
follows the shipwreck, with its horrors of starvation and its 
death agonies ; on the shipwreck follows the splendid and 
melting harmony of youthful love — that highest, freest, 
sweetest happiness of life. Juan and Haid6e are a study of 
the nude, as beautiful as an animate Amor and Pysche; 
above them the moonlit sky of Greece ; in front of them the 
wine-coloured sea — the melodious lapping of its waves, the 
accompaniment of their words of love; around them the 
enchanting atmosphere of Greece ; at their feet all the splen- 
dour of the East — scarlet and gold, crystal and marble. All 
this had followed upon peril and suffering; and now, upon 



344 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

the festival in Haid6e's palace, follows such agony for Haid6e 
that her heart breaks, and, as Juan's lot, a sabre gash on the 
forehead, crushing fetters, and sale as a slave. But it is to a 
seraglio he is sold, and presently we have the droll episode of 
his introduction, disguised as a girl, to the favourite sultana, 
/ and the mischievous night scene, with all its fire and 
fragrance, all its merry and voluptuous fun. Straight from 
this we are taken to the assault of Ismail — to human 
slaughter on the hugest scale, and to all the cruelty of a 
reckless war, carried on by a brutal soldiery — the whole 
described with more power and at greater length than any 
similar episode had been before in the poetry of any country. 
We next find Juan at the court of Catherine of Russia, 
among the " polished boors " of Eastern Europe, who are 
ruled by a gifted Messalina ; and thence we follow him to 
England, the promised land of highway robbery, of morality, 
of the power of birth and wealth, of marriage, of virtue, and 
of hypocrisy. 

This rough outline merely suffices to convey an idea of 
the capacious proportions of the poem. Not only does it 
contain, in extraordinary variety, representations of the strange 
contradictions in human life, but each of these contradictions 
is followed out to its extremest development. In each case 
the sounding-lead of the poet's imagination has been let down 
to the bottom, both in the psychological and in the external, 
tangible situation. Goethe's antique temperament inclined 
him, wherever it was possible, to moderation ; even in 
Faust, where, in terrible earnest, he lifts the veil from human 
life, he lifts it with a careful hand. But the result of this 
moderation is often a deficiency in the highest potency of 
life. In Goethe's works the geniuses of life and death are 
seldom allowed unlimited space in which to spread their 
giant wings. Byron has never the desire to tranquillise his 
reader, never thinks of sparing him. He himself is not calm 
until he has said everything there is to say ; he is a mortal 
enemy of the idealism which beautifies by selecting this, 
rejecting that ; his art consists in pointing to reality and 
nature, and crying to the reader : Know these ! 

Take any one of his characters — take Julia, for instance 



CULMINATION OF NATURALISM 345 

She is twenty-three ; she is charming ; almost without being 
aware of it, she is a little in love with Juan ; she is con- 
tented with her husband of fifty, but also, almost uncon- 
sciously, has a faint wish that he could be divided into two 
of five-and-twenty. After a hard struggle to remain virtuous 
she gives way ; but for a time there is nothing base or 
comical in the relations of the lovers. Then Byron shows 
her to us in a difficult position ; the pair are surprised by 
the husband ; and all at once we discover a new stratum of 
her nature — she lies, she deceives, she acts a part with 
astounding facility. She was not, then, good and amiable, 
as she at first appeared to be ? We were mistaken ? Not 
at all. Byron shows us yet another deeper-lying stratum of 
her soul, in the famous farewell letter she writes to Juan, an 
effusion of sincere womanly feeling, one of the gems of 
the poem. Mental agony does not incapacitate for devotion ; 
love does not preclude deceit ; nor deceit extreme delicacy 
and beauty of feeling at given moments. And the letter — 
what becomes of it ? Juan reads it, sighing and weeping, 
on board ship ; in the middle of its affecting comparison of 
the manner in which men love with that in which women 
love, he is interrupted — by sea-sickness. Poor letter, poor 
Julia, poor Juan, poor humanity! — for is not this human 
life ? Once again, poor letter ! After the shipwreck, when 
the crew of the boat have devoured their last ration and have 
long gazed hungrily at each other's famished figures, they 
agree to determine by lot which one of them shall be killed 
and eaten by the others. Search is made for paper, but 
not a scrap is to be found in the boat except Julia's poetical 
and loving letter ; it is snatched from Juan and cut into 
squares, which are numbered. One of these numbered 
squares brings death to Pedrillo. Is there, then, really a 
sphere in the firmament of heaven where idealistic love and 
cannibal instincts are to be found side by side, nay, meet 
upon one square inch of paper? Byron answers that he 
knows one — the Earth. 

From the shipwreck scene we are transported straight 
to Haid6e. Compared with her, all the Greek maidens of 
Byron's earlier poems are immature attempts. Nowhere in 



346 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

the whole range of modern poetry had the love of a child of 
nature been so beautifully described. Goethe's best girl 
figures, Gretchen and Clarchen, charming as they are, are 
little bourgeoises; we feel that their creator was a Frank- 
fort citizen, to whom nature revealed herself in his 
position as a member of the middle class, and culture dis- 
played itself at a small German court. In Byron's most 
beautiful female characters there is nothing bourgeois — no 
middle-class manners and customs have modified their free 
naturalness. We feel, when we read of Juan and Haid6e, 
that Byron is a descendant of Rousseau ; but we also feel 
that his high and independent social position, in combination 
with the character of the fortunes that had befallen him, had 
given him a much more emancipated view of human nature 
than Rousseau ever attained to. 

" And thus they wander 1 d forth, and hand in hand, 

Over the shining pebbles and the shells, 
Glided along the smooth and harden'd sand, 

And in the worn and wild receptacles 
Work*d by the storms, yet work'd as it were plann'd, 

In hollow halls, with sparry roofs and cells, 
They turn'd to rest ; and, each clasp' d by an arm, 
Yielded to the deep twilight's purple charm. 

They look'd up to the sky, whose floating glow 

Spread like a rosy ocean, vast and bright ; 
They gazed upon the glittering sea below, 

Whence the broad moon rose circling into sight ; 
They heard the waves' splash, and the wind so low, 

And saw each other's dark eyes darting light 
Into each other — and, beholding this, 
Their lips drew near, and clung into a kiss ; 

A long, long kiss, a kiss of youth, and love. 

And beauty, all concentrating like rays 
Into one focus, kindled from above ; 

Such kisses as belong to early days, 
Where heart, and soul, and sense, in concert move, 

And the blood's lava, and the pulse a blaze, 
Each kiss a heart-quake. . . . 



Haid£e spoke not of scruples, ask'd no vows, 
Nor offerM any ; she had never heard 

Of plight and promises to be a spouse, 
Or perils by a loving maid incuriM." 



CULMINATION OF NATURALISM 347 

What reader (especially if he comes straight from the 
erotic hypocrisy of the literature of the French reactionary 
period) but feels carried away by this strong current of 
warm youthful passion, by the poet's ardent enthusiasm for 
natural beauty, and by his profound scorn for the prudish- 
ness of conventional morality! Is there, then, a world, a 
world of law in which 2 and 2 make 4, an animal world in 
which all the lowest and most disgusting instincts may come 
to the surface at any moment, and yet in which such revela- 
tions of beauty in human life — revelations lasting for a 
moment, or a day, or a month, or a year, or an eternity of 
years — occur ? Yes, answers Byron, there is such a world, 
and it is the world in which we all live. And now, away 
from these scenes to the slave market, to the seraglio, to 
the battlefield, to systematic murder and rape and the 
bayoneting of little children! 

The poem is made up of such contrasts and contra- 
dictions. But it is not a sensuous, playfully satiric epic of 
the nature of Ariosto's; it is a passionate work, instinct 
with political purpose, full of wrath, scorn, threats, and 
appeals, with from time to time a loud, long blast on the 
revolutionary war trumpet. 1 Byron does not merely de- 
scribe horrors ; he interprets them. After quoting " the 
butcher" Suwarrow's rhymed despatch to Catherine an- 
nouncing the capture of Ismail, he adds : 

" He wrote this Polar melody, and set it, 

Duly accompanied by shrieks and groans, 
Which few will sing, I trust, but none forget it — 

For I will teach, if possible, the stones 
To rise against earth's tyrants. Never let it 

Be said that we still truckle unto thrones ; — 
But ye, our children's children ! think how we 
Showed what things were before the world was free I" 

If, considering both from this point of view, we compare 
Don Juan with Faust, the great poem of the beginning 
of the century, we feel that the strong, practical, historical 

1 " I have prated 
Just now enough ; but by and by I'll prattle 
LikeiRoland's horn in Roncesralles' battle." 



348 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

spirit of Don Juan carries, as it were, more weight with 
it than the philosophical spirit which inspires Faust. And 
if we place it for a moment in imagination beside its 
Russian offspring, Pushkin's Jevgeni Onjcegin, and its Danish 
offspring, Paludan-Muller's Adam Homo, the fresh sea breeze 
of nature and fact in the English poem seems to us 
all the stronger in contrast with the polish and the poli- 
tical feebleness of the Russian, and the narrow morality 
of the clever Danish, poem. In Don Juan we have nature 
and fact ; in Faust, nature and profound reflection. Don 
Juan gives us in full, broad detail the human life which 
Faust condenses into a personification ; and the whole work 
is the production of an indignation which has written where 
it can be read by the mighty of all ages its "Mene, Mene, 
Tekel, Upharsin." 

Not until he wrote this work was Byron completely him- 
self. The thorough experience he had now had of life had 
cured him of all youthful credulity. He knew now exactly 
what went to the composition of the average man, and what 
regulated that man's life. He has been called misanthrope 
because of his savage satire of such lives. He himself gives 
the proper answer to the impeachment (ix. 21) : — 

u Why do they call me misanthrope ? Because 
They hate me, not I them}' 

There is no doubt that he is occasionally cynical, but it is 
where nature herself is shameless. 

Is he very fax wrong when he says (v. 48, 49) : 

u Some talk of an appeal unto some passion, 

Some to men's feeling, others to their reason ; 



no 
Method's more sure at moments to take hold 

Of the best feelings of mankind, which grow 
More tender, as we every day behold, 

Than that all-softening, overpowering knell, 

The tocsin of the soul— the dinner-belL M 

Is he wrong when (ix. 73) he affirms love to be vain and 
selfish ? Or does he let his satirical temper carry him too far 



CULMINATION OF NATURALISM 349 

when he says, in describing the happiness of family life (iii, 
60): 

" Yet a fine family is a fine thing 

(Provided they don't come in after dinner) 5 
'Tis beautiful to see a matron bring 

Her children up (if nursing them don't thin her)." 

Alas ! as long as there is a wrong side to the most beautiful 
things, it is in vain to forbid the poet to show it to us, let 
the moralist groan as he will. These passages are among 
the most cynical in the poem. And it is to be remarked 
that the bitter, Rousseau-like attacks on civilisation (as the 
joys of which the poet enumerates "war, pestilence, the 
despot's desolation, the kingly scourge ") are always accom- 
panied by ardent declarations of love for nature (see especi- 
ally viii. 61-68). 

Byron exclaims (iii. 104) : 

" Some kinder casuists are pleased to say, 

In nameless print — that I have no devotion ; 



My altars are the mountain and the ocean, 
Earth, air, stars, all that springs from the great Whole, 
Who hath produced, and will receive the soul." 

But, unfortunately, natural religion of this kind was not 
in accordance with theological ritual. Like a refrain from 
Childe Harold recurs the glorification of liberty of thought 
(xi. 90) :— 

" I may stand alone, 
But would not change my free thoughts for a throne.* 

There are savage attacks on the theory of the origin of sin 
advanced by theology, and satire of orthodoxy and its doc- 
trine that sickness and misfortune make us good. Of sin we 
read (ix. 19): — 

" ' But heaven,' as Cassio says, * is above all — 
No more of this, then, let. us pray ! ' We have 

Souls to save, since Eve's slip and Adam's fall, 
Which tumbled all mankind into the grave, 

Besides fish, beasts, and birds. ( The sparrow's fall 
Is special providence,' though how it gave 

Offence, we know not ; probably it perch'd 

Upon the tree which Eve so fondly search'd. n 



350 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

We observe how much freer and bolder the tone has become 
since the days when Cain was written. On the subject of 
sick-bed orthodoxy Byron writes : — 

" I don't know what the reason is — the air 
Perhaps ; but as I suffer from the shocks 
Of illness, I grow much more orthodox. 

The first attack at once proved the Divinity 
(But that I never doubted, nor the Devil) ; 

The next, the Virgin's mystical virginity ; 
The third, the usual origin ef evil ; 

The fourth at once established the whole Trinity 
On so uncontrovertible a level, 

That I devoutly wish'd the three were four 

On purpose to believe so much the more." 

Byron had now reached the stage in his literary career 
when he had difficulty in getting his works published. 
Murray was apprehensive, and drew back. Not even 
a bookseller was to be found who would sell the earlier 
cantos of Don Juan at the author's risk. Byron says, when 
comparing his own fate with Napoleon's (Don Juan, xi. 56) : — 

" But Juan was my Moscow, and Faliero 

My Leipsic, and my Mont Saint Jean seems Cain : 
' La Belle Alliance ' of dunces down at zero, 
Now that the Lion's fall'n, may rise again." 

We have already noted what Southey dared to say in the 
preface to his servile poem, The Vision oj Judgment. Adopting 
the rale of informer, he called upon the Government to pre- 
vent the sale of Byron's works — for that his attack was upon 
Byron he plainly avowed in his rejoinder to Byron's answer, 
triumphantly boasting : " Of the work which I have done, it 
becomes me not here to speak, save only as relates to the 
Satanic School, and its Coryphaeus, the author of Don Juan. 
I have held up that school to public detestation, as enemies 
to the religion, the institutions, and the domestic morals of 
the country. I have given them a designation to which their 
founder and leader answers. I have sent a stone from my 
sling which has smitten their Goliath in the forehead. I 
have fastened his name upon the gibbet, for reproach and 



CULMINATION OF NATURALISM 351 

ignominy, as long as it shall endure. — Take it down who 
can!" 

Thus wrote the retained and salaried scribbler, who, as 
Byron says, had lied himself into the post of Poet-laureate. 
Byron replied in his admirable satire, HIS Vision of Judgment. 
In it, as in Southey's vision, George the Third arrives at the 
gates of heaven and requests to be admitted. But Saint Peter 
is not at all willing to open for him. The locks and keys are 
rusty ; there has been so little doing ; since 1789 every one 
has been going to hell. Cherubs arrive to insist on the old 
man's being admitted — for all the angels are Tories. But 
Satan makes his appearance as accuser, and he and Saint 
Michael dispute possession of the dead man. Both produce 
witnesses, and amongst others Southey is called. Southey 
begins to read his own works aloud, and goes on so long 
that all, angels and devils, take flight, and in the general 
confusion the old King slips into heaven. Saint Peter 
upraises his keys and knocks the poet down with them : — 

" Who fell, like PhaSthon, but more at ease, 
Into his lake, for there he did not drown ; 



He first sank to the bottom — like his works, 
But soon rose to the surface — like himself ; 
For all corrupted things are buo/d like corks." 

The little masterpiece is composed on exactly the same 
lines as the poem of Southey's which it parodies. 1 The 
difficulty was to get it printed. Murray would not accept 
it, nor would any other London publisher. 

It was while he was in this dilemma that Byron was 
guilty of the literary imprudence which injured him more 
than any other in the estimation of the English reading 
public. A talented, but not much respected man, the 
Radical author, Leigh Hunt, whom Byron as a young man, 
to show his politics, had (in company with Moore) visited 
when he was in prison for libelling the Prince Regent, and 
who was now on terms of intimacy with Shelley, conceived 
the idea of starting a Radical periodical in collaboration 

1 For other attacks on Southey, see Dan Juan, i. 205 ; iii. 80, 93 ; ix. 35 ; x. 13. 



352 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

with Shelley and Byron. Shelley, out of modesty, held back 
himself, but no sooner had he intimated to Hunt that there 
was a possibility of his obtaining Byron's assistance, than 
Hunt gave up all his occupations and chances of earning a 
living in England, and landed, penniless and helpless, with 
wife and family, in Italy, where Byron generously gave them 
shelter under his roof. But it soon became evident that no 
real community was possible between two men of such 
different natures and different calibre ; Byron could not 
stand Hunt's indiscreet familiarity ; Hunt was offended by 
Byron's haughtiness. But the worst misfortune was, that 
Byron sank incredibly in the estimation of his countrymen 
by this alliance with such an inferior man. 

In vain did Thomas Moore, when refusing to contribute 
to the proposed journal, write : " I deprecate such a plan 
with all my might. . . . You are, single-handed, a match 
for the world — which is saying a good deal, the world being, 
like Briareus, a very many-handed gentleman, — but, to be 
so, you must stand alone. Recollect that the scurvy buildings 
about St. Peter's almost seem to overtop itself." Byron had 
promised to help Hunt, and would not be induced to take 
back his word. He little thought that, after his death, Leigh 
Hunt's first action would be to write three volumes with the 
purpose of sullying his fame. 1 He gave him The Vision of 
Judgment and Heaven and Earth, the grand poem on the 
destruction of the world by the Flood, to which we Danes 
trace a likeness in Paludan-Muller's Ahasuerus. But the 
periodical, which it was originally proposed to call The Car- 
bonari, but which, from political reasons, came out under the 

1 Thomas Moore aptly compares Hunt to the dog which was allowed by the 
lion to live in his cage, but which, after the lion's death, had nothing but evil to say 
of him : — 

"Though he roarM pretty well — this the puppy allows — 
It was all, he says, borrow'd— all second-hand roar ; 
And he vastly prefers his own little bow-wows 
To the loftiest war-note the lion could pour. 

Nay, fed as he was (and this makes it a dark case) 

With sops every day from the lion's own pan, 
He lifts up his leg at the noble beast's carcase, 

And — does all a dog, so diminutive, can." 



CULMINATION OF NATURALISM 353 

feeble name of The Liberal, was received with such complete 
disapprobation that it was given up after only four numbers 
had appeared. The arena of literature was thus almost 
closed for Byron, and the only field that really remained 
open to him was that of action, of war, in the literal sense 
of the word, for his ideas. 

But before embarking on this new venture he gave his 
revolutionary feelings vent in Don Juan and The Age of 
Bronze. Shelley considered that Byron was qualified by 
his ambition and his powers to be "the redeemer of his 
degraded country." But he was mistaken ; Byron was 
little suited to take part in the obstinate, slow struggle of 
the English Opposition for liberty. Besides, it was not the 
political predicament of England alone that aroused his 
sympathies and occupied his thoughts ; in his revolt against 
all oppression and hatred of all hypocrisy he made himself 
the spokesman of the whole suffering world. His blood 
boiled when he thought of the slaves in America, of the 
ill-treatment of the Irish lower classes, of the martyrdom of 
the Italian patriots. 

Of the French Revolution Byron had always approved. 
He admired Napoleon in the first stages of his career ; but 
when the hero of the age passed 

"The Rubicon of man's awaken'd rights, 
To herd with vulgar kings and parasites,'' 

and finally, at Fontainebleau, preferred abdication to suicide, 
he overwhelmed his quondam ideal leader with the fiercest 
satire. There is much resemblance between Byron's attitude 
towards Napoleon and Heine's. Both pour ridicule on the 
so-called wars of liberation waged against him by their respec- 
tive countries. The great difference is, that the Englishman's 
inflexible pride and his devotion to liberty made it impossible 
for him to lose himself in the almost feminine admiration 
and enthusiasm by which the German was possessed. 
Napoleon's military fame made no impression on the man 
who has beautifully said {Don Juan, viii. 3) that 

"The drying up a single tear has more 
Of honest feme, than shedding seas of gore" ; 
VOL. IV. 2 



354 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

and who admired no warriors but those who, like Leonidas 
and Washington, fought for freedom. 

Byron had long flourished his lash above the Prince 
Regent's head, and many a telling stroke had fallen upon that 
royal personage's fat body: — "Though Ireland starve, great 
George weighs twenty stone." "Charles to his people, 
Henry to his wife," &c. Now he took the country itself 
to task. His lash falls upon everything false and objection- 
able, from the legend of the Virgin Queen, " our own half- 
chaste Elizabeth," as he calls her in Don Juan (ix. 81), down 
to the latest requirements of public opinion (Don Juan, vii. 2 2) : 

" Then there were Frenchmen, gallant, young, and gay ; 
But I'm too great a patriot to record 
Their Gallic names upon a glorious day ; 
I'd rather tell ten lies than say a word 
Of truth ; — such truths are treason." 

He is daring enough to attribute great part of the honour of 
Waterloo to the Prussians ; to call (in imitation of B6ranger) 
Wellington « Villainton," and to tell him that he has obtained 
great pensions and much praise for doing nothing but " re- 
pairing Legitimacy's crutch." And with a feeling and fervour 
far surpassing that displayed by Moore in his satirical letters, 
he tells England of the hatred of herself which she has aroused 
in other nations by her Tory politics. " I've no great cause," 
he writes (Don Juan, x. 66) : 

" I've no great cause to love that spot of earth, 

Which holds what might have been the noblest nation ; 
But though I owe it little but my birth, 

I feel a mix'd regret and veneration 
For its decaying fame and former worth. 
• ••••• . 

Alas ! could she but fully, truly know 

How her great name is now throughout abhorrM ; 
How eager all the earth is for the blow 

Which shall lay bare her bosom to the sword ; 
How all the nations deem her their worst foe, 

That worse than worst offoes y the once adored 
False friend, who held out freedom to mankind, 
And now would chain them, to the very mind ; — 



CULMINATION OF NATURALISM 355 

Would she be proud, or boast herself the free, 
Who is but first of slaves ? The nations are 

In prison, — but the gaoler, what is he ? 
No less a victim to the bolt and bar. 

Is the poor privilege to turn the key 
Upon the captive, freedom ? He's as far 

From the enjoyment of the earth and air 

Who watches o'er the chain, as they who wear." 

Byron had now reached the altitude at which all ordi- 
nary conventions lost their hold upon him. He pursued the 
" Ministry of Mediocrities," as he called it, with his satire 
even after the death of its members. He would not let 
Castlereagh rest quietly in his grave, because, as he says in 
one of the prefaces to Don Juan, the system of oppression 
and hypocrisy with which that statesman's name is synony- 
mous, endured long after his death. The watchword of the 
day, sovereignty " by the grace of God," was obnoxious to 
him, as was also the perpetual recurrence of the phrases : 
Britannia's rule of the waves, the glorious British constitu- 
tion, the noble Emperors, and the pious Russian people. 
On the coins of gold appear once more, he writes after the 
fall of Napoleon, faces with the old " sterling, stupid stamp." 
The universal idolisation of the most uncivilised nation of 
Europe disgusted him. One could not go anywhere at that 
time without hearing the sentimental Cossack's song of fare- 
well to his sweetheart, the first words of which, " Schone 
Minka," are not yet forgotten. 

Thus it was Byron who, towards the middle of the 
twenties, inaugurated the Radical campaign against political 
Romanticism and that Holy Alliance which was nothing but 
a systematisation of the political hypocrisy of Europe. 
Byron called it : 

" An earthly trinity ! which wears the shape 
Of heaven's, as man is mimick'd by the ape. 
A pious unity ! in purpose one — 
To melt three fools to a Napoleon. ' 

He jeered at "the coxcomb Czar, the autocrat of waltzes 
and of war." He ridiculed the €t twenty fools " at Laybach, 



356 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

who imagined that their hypocritical proceedings could 
determine the destiny of the human race. He cried : 

u O Wilberforce ! thou man of black renown, 

Whose merit none enough can sing or say, 
Thou hast struck one immense Colossus down, 

Thou moral Washington of Africa ! 
But there's another little thing, I own, 

Which you should perpetrate some summer's day, 
And set the other half of earth to rights ; 
You have freed the blacks — now pray shut up the whites. 

Shut up the bald-coot bully Alexander 1 

Ship off the Holy Three to Senegal ; 
Teach them that ' sauce for goose is sauce for gander/ 

And ask them how they like to be in thrall ? " 

What language ! What tones breaking the death-like silence 
of oppressed Europe ! The political air rang with the shrill 
notes ; for no word uttered by Lord Byron fell unheard to 
the ground. The legions of the fugitives, the banished, the 
oppressed, the conspirators, of every nation, kept their 
eyes fixed upon the one man who, amidst the universal 
debasement of intelligences and characters to a low standard, 
stood upright, beautiful as an Apollo, brave as an Achilles, 
prouder than all the kings of Europe together. Free, in his 
quality of English peer, from molestation everywhere, he 
made himself the mouthpiece of the dumb revolutionary 
indignation which was seething in the breasts of the best 
friends and lovers of liberty in Europe. 

He himself had defined poetry as passion ; x and inspired 
passion was what his own became. Listen to some of the 
thunders that pealed over Europe : 

You hardly will believe such things were true 

As now occur, I thought that I would pen you 'em ; 



And when you hear historians talk of thrones 

And those that sate upon them, let it be 
As we now gaze upon the mammoth's bones, 

And wonder what old world such things could see." 

(Don/uan, viii 136, 137). 

1 " Poetry, which is but passion." Don/uan, iv. 106. 



CULMINATION OF NATURALISM 357 

** Think if then George the Fourth should be dug up ! 
How the new worldlings of the then new East 
Will wonder where such animals could sup ! " 

(Don Juan, ix. 

" But never mind ; — c God save the king ! ' and kings ! 

For if he don't, I doubt if men will longer — 
I think I hear a little bird, who sings 

The people by and by will be the stronger : 
The veriest jade will wince whose harness wrings 

So much into the raw as quite to wrong her 
Beyond the rules of posting, — and the mob 
At last fell sick of imitating Job. 

At first it grumbles, then it swears, and then, 
Like David, flings smooth pebbles 'gainst a giant 

At last it takes to weapons such as men 
Snatch when despair makes human hearts less pliant 

Then comes * the tug of war ; ' — 'twill come again, 
I rather doubt ; and I would fain say ( fie on't,' 

If I had not perceived that revolution 

Alone can save the earth from hell's pollution." 

(Don Juan, viii. 50, 51). 

" And I will war, at least in words (and— should 

My chance so happen — deeds), with all who war 
With Thought ;— and of Thought's foes by far most rude, 

Tyrants and sycophants have been and are. 
I know not who may conquer : if I could 

Have such a prescience, it should be no bar 
To this my plain, sworn, downright detestation 
Of every despotism in every nation." 

(Don Juan, x 24). 



XXIII 

BYRON'S DEATH 

He had prophesied revolution ; he had sorrowfully witnessed 
the failure of the plans laid by the Carbonari ; but now at 
last the expected revolution had begun. 

" On Andes' and on Athos 1 peaks unfurl'd, 
The self-same standard streams o'er either world." 

He had been expelled from the ranks of literature in England. 
He had been driven from town to town in Italy. It had long 
been a saying with him that a man ought to do more for his 
fellow>-men than write poetry, and over and over again had 
he talked of art with the contempt of a Hotspur. Now 
everything conspired to urge him to action. Consideration 
for the Countess Guiccioli alone restrained him. He had 
thoughts of taking part in the Creoles' struggle for liberty ; 
he made careful inquiries into the condition of matters in 
South America. His Ode on Venice ends with the words : 

" Better be 
Where the extinguish'd Spartans still are free, 
In their proud charnel of Thermopylae, 
Than stagnate in our marsh, — or o'er the deep 
Fly, and one current to the ocean add, 
One spirit to the souls our fathers bad, 
One freeman more, America, to thee I " 

The attraction to the country which had first inspired him to 
song proved the strongest. He tore himself away from the 
Countess Guiccioli, who was anxious to accompany him, 
but whom he dared not expose to the dangers and hard- 
ships of a campaign. The Committee of the English friends 
of Greece had elected him their representative, and supplied 
him amply with funds. On the day of his departure from 

358 



BYRON'S DEATH 359 

Leghorn he received his first and last greeting from Goethe, 
in the shape of the old master's famous sonnet to him. 

For five months he continued to reside on the island of 
Cephalonia, occupied in carefully investigating into the real 
state of matters in Greece, and besieged by the different 
Greek leaders, who were at enmity with each other, and 
each of whom was eager to enlist Byron on his side. The 
distribution of money, ammunition, and other materials of 
war necessitated an immense amount of correspondence, to 
which Byron attended with dogged industry. He at last 
made his choice among the Greek leaders, determining to 
join Prince Mavrocordato at Missolonghi. During his stay 
in Cephalonia proposals had been made to him which must 
have been most flattering to his ambition. The Greeks 
had a strong bias towards monarchical government, and 
Trelawny, who was in a position to know, was convinced 
that, if Byron had been alive at the time of the Congress of 
Salona, the crown of Greece would have been offered to him. 

When Byron landed at Missolonghi he was received 
like a prince. The fortress fired a salute, bands played, 
the whole population crowded to the shore to welcome 
him. At the house prepared for his reception, Mavrocordato 
awaited him at the head of a staff of officers, both Greek 
and foreign. Five thousand armed men were quartered in 
the town. Byron took five hundred Suliotes (natives of 
Albania), who had been left leaderless by the death of Marco 
Bozzari, into his own pay. He selected for himself, as if 
death were what he desired, the most dangerous of the com- 
mands, that of the troops which were to proceed to Lepanto, 
hoping to compensate by energy and courage for his want 
of military experience ; his staff were to be responsible for 
the strategical direction of the force. He had occasion, 
while holding this command, to be astonished by the power- 
ful impression which personal accomplishments and personal 
intrepidity make upon half-savage natures ; nothing pro- 
duced such respect for him in the minds of his Suliotes, 
who themselves were bad marksmen, as his unerring aim 
and his indifference to danger. But he had undeniably 
become a nobler man. Though not free from attacks of 



360 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

his old melancholy, he saw the path of glory clear before 
him. Evidence of his feeling at this time is borne by the 
beautiful poem, one of the finest he ever wrote, which he 
composed on his thirty-sixth birthday. If we compare it 
with the despairing lines which bear the date of his thirty- 
third birthday, the difference is clearly perceptible. Along 
with premonition of his approaching death we have manly 
resolve : — 

" 'Tis time this heart should be unmoved, 
Since others it hath ceased to move : 
Yet, though I cannot be beloved, 
Still let me love ! 

My days are in the yellow leaf ; 

The flowers and fruits of love are gone ; 
The worm, the canker, and the grief 
Are mine alone 1 



But 'tis not thus— and 'tis not here- 
Such thoughts should shake my soul, nor now, 
Where glory decks the hero's bier, 
Or binds his brow. 

The sword, the banner, and the field, 
Glory and Greece, around me see ! 
The Spartan, borne upon his shield, 
Was not more free. 



Seek out — less often sought than found — 

A soldier's grave, for thee the best ; 
Then look around, and choose thy ground, 
And take thy rest" 

Byron's very first endeavour was, as might have been ex- 
pected of him, to modify, as far as possible, the barbarity of 
the method in which the war was being carried on. He 
released several Turkish officers, and sent them to Yussuf 
Pacha with a dignified and beautiful letter, in which he begs 
him in return to treat such Greeks as may henceforth fall 
into his hands with humanity, since the horrors of war are 
sufficiently great without being aggravated by wanton cruelties 



BYRON'S DEATH 361 

on either side. Then he turned all his attention to the 
task he had set himself, and displayed a clear-sighted practi- 
cality which stood out in marked contrast to the poetical 
visionariness of those with whom he was associated. 

The other Englishmen of the Committee, in their un- 
worldly idealism, hoped to civilise Greece by means of a free 
press, newspaper articles, &c, &c. ; but in Byron, the Car- 
bonaro had made way for the practical politician. He built 
everywhere, energetically and firmly, upon the actually exist- 
ing conditions — first and foremost upon the hatred of 
Turkey which existed in the breast of every Greek. He 
considered it much safer to reckon upon this than upon 
their devotion to freedom and republicanism. Stanhope 
wished to open schools. Byron demanded and distributed 
cannon. Stanhope endeavoured, through the agency of 
missionaries, to introduce Protestant Christianity. Byron, 
who saw that this foolishness would alienate the whole 
Greek priesthood, would have nothing introduced but 
weapons and money. And he left off making attacks upon 
the different European Governments. He had witnessed 
the collapse of Carbonarism when brought into contact with 
organised authority ; hence his desire was to obtain for 
Greece recognition by the Great Powers. 

Unfortunately his health was not equal to the carrying 
out of his great plans. At Missolonghi he rode out as usual 
every day, and, to impress the inhabitants, was always 
attended by a bodyguard of fifty Suliotes on foot. These 
men were such splendid runners that, though they carried 
their carbines, they were able to keep up with the horses 
galloping at full speed. On one of these rides Byron was 
drenched by a heavy shower. Count Gamba tried to per- 
suade him to return home at once, but he refused, saying: 
" I should make a pretty soldier, indeed, if I were to care for 
such a trifle." The following day he was seized with violent 
convulsions — three men were hardly able to hold him — and 
the pain was so excessive that he said : " I do not care for 
death, but these agonies I cannot bear." While he was 
lying in an almost fainting condition after this attack, a 
band of rebellious Suliotes made their way into his room, 



362 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

brandishing their sabres, and demanding reparation for 
some supposed slight. Byron raised himself up in bed, and 
with a powerful exercise of will, ever calmer the more they 
raged and screamed, mastered them with his look and manner, 
and dismissed them. 

He had written to Moore some months previously : " If 
anything in the way of fever, fatigue, famine, or otherwise, 
should cut short the middle age of a brother warbler, I pray 
you to remember me in 'your smiles and wine.' I have 
hopes that the cause will triumph ; but whether it does or 
no, still ' honour must be minded as strictly as milk diet.' 
I trust to observe both." On the 12th of April he had 
again to take to bed, and from this date the fever never 
abated. The 18th was Easter Day, a holiday which the 
Greeks were accustomed to celebrate by firing off muskets 
and salvos of artillery ; but out of consideration for their 
benefactor, the townspeople kept perfectly quiet. The 19th 
was the last day of Byron's life. During part of it he was 
delirious ; he imagined himself to be commanding troops, 
and shouted : " Forwards — forwards — courage ! " When he 
came to himself again, he began to give his last orders to 
his servant, Fletcher. " Go to my sister," he said ; u tell her 

— go to Lady Byron — you will see her, and say ." Here 

his voice became indistinct, and only names could be made 
out — "Augusta — Ada — Hobhouse." He then said: "Now, 

I have told you all." " My lord," replied Fletcher, " I have 
not understood a word your lordship has been saying." 

II Not understood me ? " exclaimed Lord Byron, with a look 
of the utmost distress. " What a pity ! Then it is too 
late ; all is over." He still continued to utter a few dis- 
connected words : " Poor Greece 1 — poor town ! — my poor 
servants ! " Then his thoughts must have turned to Countess 
Guiccioli, for he murmured : " Io lascio qualche cosa di caro 
nel mondo." Towards evening he said : « Now I shall go to 
sleep," and, turning round, fell into that slumber from which 
he never awoke. 

The announcement of Byron's death fell like a thunder- 
bolt upon Greece. It affected the nation in the manner of 
a terrible natural catastrophe, the consequences of which 



BYRON'S DEATH 363 

were incalculable. On the day he died the following pro- 
clamation was issued : — 

PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT OF WESTERN GREECE. 

The present day of festivity and rejoicing has become one of sorrow 
and of mourning. The Lord Noel Byron departed this life at six 
o'clock in the afternoon, after an illness of ten days ... I hereby 
decree : — 

1 st, To-morrow morning at daylight, thirty-seven minute guns will 
be fired from the grand battery, being the number which corresponds 
with the age of the illustrious deceased. 

2nd, All the public offices, even the tribunals, are to remain closed 
for three successive days. 

3d, All the shops, except those in which provisions or medicines 
are sold, will also be shut; and it is strictly enjoined that every species 
of public amusement, and other demonstrations of festivity at Easter, 
shall be suspended. 

4th, A general mourning will be observed for twenty-one days. 

5th, Prayers and a funeral service are to be offered up in all the 
churches. A. Mavrocordato. 

Given at Missolonghi 
this igth day of April 1824. 

No other evidence is required of the impression which 
the news of Byron's death made upon all who were in- 
timately connected with him. At Missolonghi people ran 
through the streets crying : " He is dead 1 The great man 
is gone ! " The corpse was conveyed to England. The 
clergy refused it a place in the Poet's Corner in Westminster 
Abbey. But, dependent neither on the blame of England 
nor the praise of Greece, his renown established itself 
throughout the earth. 

In the intellectual life of Russia and Poland, of Spain 
and Italy, of France and Germany, the seeds which he had 
strewn broadcast with such a lavish hand fructified — from 
the dragon's teeth sprang armed men. The Slavonic nations, 
who were groaning under tyrannical rule, who were by 
nature inclined to be melancholy, and in whom their history 
had developed rebellious instincts, seized on his poetry with 



364 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

avidity; and Pushkin's Onjcegin, Lermontoff's A Hero of 
Our Own Days, Malczewski's Mar/a, Mickiewicz's Conrad 
and Walknrod, Slowacki's Lambro and Beniowski witness 
to the powerful impression made upon their authors. The 
Romance races, whose fair sinners his verses had celebrated, 
and who were now in the act of revolt, eagerly translated 
and studied his works. The Spanish and Italian exile-poets 
took up his war-cry ; in Spain the " Myrtle " Society was 
formed ; in Italy his influence was most plainly manifest in 
the writings of Giovanni Berchet, but hardly less so in those 
of Leopardi and Giusti. His death made an extraordinary 
impression in France. A week or two after it happened, 
Chateaubriand went over to the Opposition, and his first 
action after his fall was to become a member of the Greek 
Committee. Hugo's Les Orientates was not a flight straight 
to the East, like the Oriental poetry of Germany ; his way 
lay through Greece, and he had much to say of the heroes 
of the war of liberation. Delavigne devoted a beautiful poem 
to Byron ; Lamartine added a last canto to Childe Harold; 
M6rim6e allowed himself to be influenced by Byron's occa- 
sional spirit of savagery ; Alfred de Musset attempted to take 
up the mantle which had fallen from the shoulders of the 
great poet ; and even Lamennais began to employ a style in 
which many of the words and expressions recalled the lan- 
guage of Byron's sallies. Germany was still politically too 
far behind the other nations to have exiles and emigrants 
among its poets ; but its philologists had, with quiet re- 
joicing, beheld in the rising of Greece the resurrection of 
ancient Hellas ; poets like Wilhelm Muller and Alfred 
Meissner wrote beautiful verse in honour of Byron ; and 
there were other writers who were still more deeply moved 
by Byron's poetry — men of Jewish extraction, whose feelings 
were those of the exiled and excommunicated — chief among 
them Borne and Heine. Heine's best poetry (notably 
Deutsch/and, ein Winterm&rchen) is a continuation of Byron's 
work. French Romanticism and German Liberalism are 
both direct descendants of Byroa's Naturalism. 



XXIV 

CONCLUSION 

Naturalism as an intellectual tendency in England, makes 
its appearance in Wordsworth in the form of love of all the 
external phenomena of nature, a habit of storing up natural 
impressions, and piety towards animals, children, country 
people, and the "poor in spirit." With him as its repre- 
sentative, it strays for a moment into a blind alley, that of 
uninspired imitation of nature. In Coleridge, and even 
more in Southey, it approaches the German Romanticism of 
the day, follows it into the world of legend and superstition, 
but avoids its worst excesses by treating Romantic themes 
in a Naturalistic manner and keeping an open eye on 
land and sea and all the elements of reality. In Scott, 
Naturalism occupies itself with the character and history of 
a whole nation, and in vivid colours paints man as the son 
of a race and a period ; in Keats, it takes possession of the 
whole world of the senses, and reposes for a moment on the 
neutral ground between tranquil contemplation of nature and 
the proclamation of a gospel of nature and of natural rights. 
In Moore it becomes erotic, and espouses Liberalism in 
politics ; the sight of the sufferings of his native island drives 
this poet into the ranks of the lovers of liberty, intellectual 
and political. In Campbell, it becomes eulogy of England 
as Queen of the Sea and expression of English liberal views. 
In Landor, it takes the shape of pagan Humanism, of too 
repellent and proud a character to win the suffrage of 
Europe. It is transformed in Shelley into a soulful love of 
nature and a poetic Radicalism, which have at their com- 
mand poetic gifts of the very highest order; but the in- 
corporeal universality of Shelley's Naturalism, in combination 
with the circumstance that he is much too far ahead of his 

365 



366 NATURALISM IN ENGLAND 

age, and with his early death, causes his song to die away 
unheard, Europe never learning what a poet she possesses 
and loses. 

Then, like Achilles arising in his wrath after he has burned 
the body of Patroclus, Byron, after Shelley's death, arises and 
lifts up his mighty voice, European poetry was flowing on like 
a sluggish, smooth river ; those who walked along its banks 
found little for the eye to rest on. All at once, as a continua- 
tion of the stream, appeared this poetry, under which the 
ground so often gave way that it precipitated itself in 
cataracts from one level to another — and the eyes of all 
inevitably turn to that part of a river where its stream 
becomes a waterfall. In Byron's poetry the river boiled 
and foamed, and the roar of its waters made music that 
mounted up to heaven. In its seething fury it formed whirl- 
pools, tore itself and whatever came in its way, and in the 
end undermined the very rocks. But, " in the midst of the 
infernal surge," sat such an Iris as the poet himself has 
described in Childe Harold — a glorious rainbow, the emblem 
of freedom and peace — invisible to many, but clearly seen 
by all who, with the sun above them in the sky, place them- 
selves in the right position. 

It presaged better days for Europe. 



THE END 



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